The Making of Saving Lives at Sea

Get to know some of the people involved in the making of Saving Lives at Sea and how they bring those rescues from the pager to the small screen.

Collage including: (left) RNLI lifeguard on a rescue water craft in waves, (centre) portrait of Laura Thomas - RNLI Saving Lives at Sea Press Officer and (right) RNLI inshore lifeboat moving through the sea.

Photo: RNLI

Laura Thomas - RNLI Saving Lives at Sea Press Officer

With the return of our hugely popular TV series Saving Lives at Sea, have you ever wondered what goes on behind the scenes? How do the rescues taking place around our vast coastlines and across our nations, make it on to your TV screen on a Thursday evening?

We know that our lifeguards and lifeboat crews are ordinary people doing extraordinary things and in order to bring those incredible rescue stories to life, there's a whole host of RNLI volunteers and staff members, along with the production team from Blast! Flims, who come together to make this series so special.

Hear from Laura Thomas our Saving Lives at Sea Press Officer, who has to watch hours of rescue footage as part of her job role, but says she's 'on the edge of her sofa with everyone else' as soon as the music begins and the opening credits roll...

What is your role with Saving Lives at Sea (SLAS) and how long have you been doing it?

I am the Saving Lives at Sea Press Officer and series 7 is the third series I’ve worked on. My role is to facilitate the production of the series from pre-production - which is researching filmed callouts, production - helping set up filming, and post-production, that involves checking episodes for accuracy with other colleagues. It’s important to have someone from the RNLI keeping an oversight during the production process to make sure we’re balancing any reputational and operational concerns, with the need to make compelling TV that the audience enjoy.

What does your role as SLAS Press Officer entail?

No day is the same as the last because, of course, all callouts are different and I work on multiple stages of the production at the same time. It can be very fast paced but I really enjoy getting to talk to so many people from different walks of life. Volunteers at stations - our wonderful Lifeboat Press Officers, casualties, the RNLI Regional Media Teams, the Lifesaving Standards Team, Area Lifesaving Managers and more! I think getting to watch our crew and lifeguards saving lives at sea in real time, and then learning how much it has meant to the casualties is a very privileged position to be in.

Did you watch SLAS before you worked on the show?

Yes, and learning more about how it’s made has probably made me appreciate it more. Even though I’ve seen all the footage before, once the music and narration are added in I’m on the edge of my sofa with everyone else.

How does the series go from an idea on paper to an episode being broadcast on TV?

It all starts with a filmed callout, the Blast Team and I spend a lot of time researching callouts. As well as having the footage, it’s vital that we have a means of contacting the casualties. I contact many of the casualties myself seeking consent for a research call from one of the Blast producers, whilst also capturing consent for them to become case studies. A great deal of work is put into showing a wide range of different callout scenarios, stories and stations. Blast! speak to the crews or lifeguards involved in the stories and if everything falls into place, they’ll film with the lifeguards or crews and the casualties.

Have you ever been on set whilst Blast! are filming? If so, is it what you expected?

Given that this is my third series it’s surprising that I haven’t. Mainly because of the need for less people to attend filming during the pandemic, but also because I’m really busy working on other callouts for later filming.

What’s something about the process of making a show like SLAS that the audience wouldn’t be aware of?

One of the most time-consuming parts of my job is watching all the footage we’re considering for the series in real time. As our volunteers will attest, sometimes this can take hours just for one shout. I’d estimate my callout watching screen time must be in the high hundreds by now.

What are some of the challenges of making SLAS?

Whether a story makes it to TV hinges on so many factors such as casualty contact, the need to show the variety of shouts our lifesavers attend, insufficient footage, the list goes on. You’ll notice that sometimes people’s faces are blurred in the series, which is because they haven’t consented to appearing or – despite exhaustive efforts – we haven’t been able to establish contact with them. Some stories are compelling enough without the casualties’ involvement, but not having contact details or a means of acquiring them scuppers a lot of filming plans.

Why do you think SLAS is so popular and back for another series?

We like to see ordinary people doing exceptional things. As Adrian, who was rescued by Fleetwood RNLI when he was caught out by a spring tide whilst bait digging (series 6), said: 'Marvel heroes don’t come anywhere near.'

What’s one of your most memorable episodes or rescues from previous series and why?

My favourite rescue from the last series was the St Davids RNLI and Whitesands Beach Lifeguards story from episode 10. I always enjoy seeing our lifeguards and lifeboat crews working together to save lives. The casualty was really moved about how he was looked after so well in his time of need by strangers.

What do you think makes a good rescue story?

The best rescue stories aren’t necessarily always high adrenaline and action packed. It could be an unusual callout, some sort of friend or family connection to the crew, and animal rescues also go down very well.

Describe SLAS in three words?

Life-affirming, powerful, engaging.

To anyone who’s never watched it before, why should they tune into SLAS?

It's an hour of feel-good escapism and our people are amazing!

What’s the best thing about being a part of the SLAS team?

I enjoy every part of the role, but throughout my time on the series speaking to our casualties has become more and more rewarding and special.

What are you most looking forward to this series?

There's a rescue in episode 2 involving Rhyl RNLI when a retired crew member comes to the aid of a person in the water, it is one of my favourites from this new series, for me it's an excellent example of the community spirit around our stations.

You can watch the brand-new series of Saving Lives at Sea at 8pm on Thursday evenings on BBC 2. Episodes will also be available to watch on BBC iPlayer afterwards. Please note that sometimes episodes are affected by regional scheduling variations, so check your regional TV programme listings for the most accurate information. Previous series have been broadcast by RTÉ at a later date, so will likely be available to watch there too.