While countless employees are content to swim around in the office shark tank, there are a few---and only a few---willing to put their lives on the line for others. The Coast Guard Rescue Swimmers are a part of the select group.
Jumping into towering ocean waves to retrieve stranded sailors, these specially qualified men and women ignore their own safety and comfort in favor of complete strangers. They train, work and breathe by the motto "So Others May Live."
But not everyone makes it; sometimes even the Coast Guard loses their own. Following a tragic accident that kills his crew, celebrated swimmer Ben Randall (Kevin Costner) is taken out of the water and reassigned to teach at the department's elite training school. Yet even in the classroom, Ben discovers someone who needs rescuing.
Jake Fischer (Ashton Kutcher) is a cocky high school record holder who's out to prove what he can do in the pool. More interested in setting times and hitting on girls than saving lives, the young hot shot needs a strong hand to guide him. Luckily Ben's unconventional, hard-nosed tutoring methods and his willingness as an instructor to go the extra mile prove to be just what the student needs.
However, the real test comes when Jake is sent out on his first solo mission in the frigid waters off the coast of Alaska. Hovering in a helicopter over the turbulent waters, the new graduate puts his skills to trial.
Although both men are stellar during a crisis, in their off-duty hours they face personal challenges. Ben's marriage to Helen (Selma Ward) is failing and Jake is involved in a casual relationship with a schoolteacher (Melissa Sagemiller) that revolves around frequent, casual sex with no commitment. Unfortunately the sexual antics, some profanities including a strong sexual expletive and the men's frequent drinking habits, are distracting sidelines to these swimmers' otherwise heroic actions.
Still, for older audiences, the willingness of Ben Randall and the new cadets to retrieve the stranded, the injured and even the foolhardy, provides a strong example of committed service. The film also invokes a greater appreciation for the real life guardians of the sea who put it all on the line when a distress call comes in.