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Fife Stories: Neil Cunningham Dobson

Fife pioneering marine archaeologist on diving for treasure


Neil Cunningham Dobson

Marine Archaeologist

“As a proud Fifer, I am honoured to be a Fife Ambassador. I relish the opportunity to promote this amazing county with its rich history and maritime heritage. The kingdom has been home to many notable people through the centuries and it's fertile land and coast provide a vast array of fine fare.”

Neil Cunningham Dobson is a pioneering deep-water marine archaeologist, explorer, historian, author and media personality. Passionate Fifer Neil has travelled the world many times over, but home is always St Andrews and where he runs his marine archaeology and exploration consultancy business Rovarch. 

Fife born and bred Neil Cunningham Dobson came into the world in July 1956, one of twins born in Dunfermline. In the 1960s his parents moved to Glenrothes to run the very popular Woodside Inn; the first pub in Fife to do bar lunches. By 1972 Neil's parents returned to their ancestral home of St Andrews where he attended Madras College.

Desperate to join the Merchant Navy, Neil was accepted as a Deck Cadet with Ben Line Steamers Ltd in Edinburgh (affectionately known as the Scottish Navy). At the end of his 5 year apprenticeship he found there was no work for a newly qualified junior officer due the UK decline in the merchant Navy, so he followed in his dad's footsteps and managed a Fife village pub for a couple of years.

In 1979, Neil was one of the first batch of Fifers to work in the off-shore North Sea oil industry. In the 1980s Neil qualified as a sport diving instructor and ran the St Andrews Archaeological divers club. He became an off-shore survival instructor and one of the UK’s first free fall lifeboat instructors. The Archaeological diving unit based at St Andrews University approached Neil about information on local ship wrecks and maritime history, this sparked an interest in maritime archaeology for Neil and became a tutor for the Nautical Archaeological Society. Dr Colin Martin of the Scottish Institute of Maritime studies (SIMS) invited Neil to be part of his Cromwellian Ship wreck project off Duart Castle on the Isle of Mull and then offered him the opportunity to do a Masters Degree in Marine Archaeology at St Andrews University.

After gaining his degree Neil worked at St Andrews University for SIMS and then gained his commercial ROV Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) Pilot licence. In 2001, he was then approached by Florida based Odyssey Marine Exploration to join them as their Principal Marine Archaeologist.

For the last 13 years Neil's second home has been the research vessel Odyssey Explorer and has worked extensively in the North Atlantic, English Channel and Mediterranean. Neil has worked on many high profile ship wrecks which include SS Republic, Nuestra Señora de las Mercedes (the Black Swan), RMS Lusitania, SS Gairsoppa, SS Central America,  the search for the  Bonhomme Richard to name a few.  These high profile ship wrecks attracted the attention of the worldwide media and Neil took part in many documentaries for numerous TV channels around the globe including National Geographic, History channel, PBS, BBC, Channel 5 and a 12 part series for the Discovery Channel. He has been featured in countless newspapers and magazines and taken part in radio interviews. Neil has lectured and tutored in the UK and USA.

For 23 years Neil served as HM Coastguard Rescue Officer based at St Andrews.



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