Retired Navy Capt. James Cowling Houghton, 62, a former Naval attache in Moscow and a former chairman of the Inter-American Naval Working Conference in Washington, died of cancer Saturday at his home here.

Capt. Houghton was born in Washington. He graduated from old Western High School in 1936 and from the Naval Academy at Annapolis in 1941. During World War II, he served on destroyers in the Atlantic and as a pilot in the Pacific.

Subsequent assignments included duty with a military assistance group in Brazil, command of a squadron of patrol planes and various duties in the Navy Department. He was U.S. naval attache in Moscow from 1960 to 1963, and an assistant attache in London from 1965 to 1968.

Capt. Houghton was assigned to Washington in 1968 and was the naval delegate to the Inter-American Defense Board. From 1971 until his retirement a year later, he was chairman of the Inter-American Naval Working Conference.

Capt. Houghton was a graduate of the Industrial College of the Armed Forces. He earned a bachelor's degree in business administration at George Washington University in 1965.

After leaving the service, Capt. Houghton was business manager of the Washington International School. Since 1974, he had worked in the Washington office of the American Can Co. as a government liaison official. w

Capt. Houghton was a member of the Army & Navy Club, the Navy League and the U.S. Naval Institute. He also belonged to the Metropolitan Memorial United Methodist Church.

Survivors include his wife, the former Alice Lorraine Johnson, whom he married in 1943, of Washington, two children, Thomas C., of Potomac, and Susan Hartman of Ann Arbor, Mich., and one grandchild.