Carl Brashear leaves his native Kentucky and the life of a sharecropper in 1948 by joining the United States Navy. As a crew member of the salvage ship USS Hoist (ARS-40), where he is assigned to the galley, he is inspired by the bravery of one of the divers, Master Chief Petty Officer Leslie William "Billy" Sunday. He is determined to overcome racism and become the first black American Navy diver, even proclaiming that he will become a Master Diver (United States Navy). He eventually is selected to attend Diving and Salvage School in Bayonne, New Jersey, where he arrives as a Boatswain's mate (United States Navy). He finds that Master Chief Sunday is the leading chief petty officer and head instructor, who is under orders from the school's eccentric, bigoted commanding officer to ensure that Brashear fails.