A group of Whangarei sea cadets nominated for a national community service award has won top prize.

The Training Ship Diomede on Riverside Drive is the country's northern most sea cadet unit that trains 11 teenagers between 13 and 18 years old with leadership skills they can use in their chosen careers.

The unit was presented with the Royal New Zealand Returned and Services Association Community Services Award by the Governor-General in Wellington two weeks ago. It is the first time they have won the award.

David Gilbert, commanding officer of the Training Ship Diomede, said his unit was nominated for the work the cadets did with Maritime New Zealand by spreading the safer boating message around Northland last year.

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"Our cadets travelled around Northland no further south than Mangawhai to boat launches and pushed safety messages because Northland has a prolific number of boating incidents.

"We handed out safety packages and towards the end, we went to high schools and spoke at their assemblies on things like how to look out for rips and just general water safety messages," Mr Gilbert said.

He acknowledged the support of his cadets' parents, who drove their children to picnic spots to spread water safety messages.

He said the unit's application for the award was endorsed by Whangarei mayor Sheryl Mai.

Mr Gilbert said to receive such a prestigious award for the first time in the unit's 49-year history was overwhelming.

Petty officer Mason Kennedy, 15, followed his two older brothers Cam and Lachie to the Training Ship Diomede and reckoned it was so much fun.

"They used to come home and tell us about the cadetship and how good it was and that's what got me interested in the cadetship."

It is his second year and his ambition is to join the Navy and train in seamanship and combat.

Mason's advice to boys and girls thinking of joining the sea cadets was: "Definitely get involved. It's a once in a lifetime opportunity and the skills you learn here you never dream of learning.

"You want to come back each week ... it's so much fun," he said.

The cadets meet at the Riverside Drive base every Wednesday evening.