Over the centuries people have been drawn to the sea for different reasons - for pleasure, for fishing and for trade. The unpredictable power of the sea has a nasty habit of catching them out, necessitating the resources of the rescue services and lifeboat volunteers.
Occasionally, home movie makers managed to capture some of the exploits of these rescue services. Their recollections tell the story of how they used increasingly elaborate technology and risked their lives to save the lives of others, and why, in spite of all this, the sea continued to claim so many lives.
Lighthouses were there at the beginning, but automation saw the end of the people who kept them going. One keeper who filmed them before they disappeared at the end of the 20th century was Peter Halil. Peter realised that no one was recording the passing of a way of life, so set about doing it himself. He enlisted the help of fellow keeper Gerry Douglas Sherwood and the programme features the eloquent video he shot, together with recollections of both of them.
Peter's films captured the end of a way of life, while others filmed the inherent dangers to life itself. Amazing film of the work of the volunteer coastguard in St Ives and the crisis to the naval minesweeper HMS Wave in 1951, the RNLI lifeboat in Dover coping with the Texaco Caribbean disaster in 1971, and the work of the combined rescue services called out in August 1979 to the aid of yachts in trouble in the Fastnet race shape the tone of the programme. Maritime historian Richard Woodman provides a historical and technological context for the eyewitnesses and home movie enthusiasts who tell the stories behind the images in each of these rescues.
Perhaps the most compelling is that of Eric Smith, an RAF winchman. Dramatic home movie images filmed from the Cornish coast reveal the daring and ultimately successful operation to rescue two men trapped in a ship sinking off Land's End. The drama and tension are portrayed, as is the skill and bravery of Eric Smith, qualities that brought him the George Medal.