Mustang Sticks are proven lifesavers for boaters and first responders, and my Rescue Box  (Make: Volume 68, page 48) makes the Sticks available to the public wherever and whenever needed. Anyone who has ever thrown a softball, football, or even snowballs, can throw a Stick accurately enough to save a life — but you may still want to get some practice in.

Get together with a few regulars from your swimming area to practice rescue throws with this dummy stick, which simulates the size, weight, balance, and air resistance of the real thing (Figure A).

Figure A

I made mine with leftovers in my shed, an old 1″-diameter broomstick, a 3′ length of 1″ slit pipe insulating foam, and a 54″ length of ¼” mild steel rod.

1. Cut the broomstick (or 1″ dowel) to 15½” long. I used a hacksaw in a miter box to make all wood and foam cuts square. Clamping the steel rod in a vise, cut nine 6″ lengths and deburr the ends with a file.

2. Cut a 15½” length of the pipe foam. Also cut two 9½” lengths and set them aside.

3. Glue the long foam section to the whole length of the broomstick or dowel using any good multi-purpose waterproof glue (Figure B). Hold it snugly in place with painter’s tape to dry (Figure C).

Figure B

Figure C

4. Glue three clusters of three rods each at 120-degree intervals along the foam axis, holding them in place with two rubber bands. The ends of the rods should be 6″ up from the handle tip (Figure D).

Figure D

5. Cut a ¼” strip away from one edge of each short foam section and glue the trimmed cover sections over the rods and the foam flush with the top of the dummy stick (Figure E). Fill in the slight gap around the top end with a strip of the foam you cut from one of the cover edges. Be generous everywhere with the glue. Hold the covers in place with painter’s tape while the glue dries.

Figure E

6. Round the sharp foam corners at the top end and the handle end with sandpaper. Mask the handle and spray the covered end yellow.

Throw It!

Now gather your volunteer rescuers for hot dogs and lemonade and a training session in a grassy field (to cushion the impacts). Pace off various rough distances — 50′, 75′, and 100′ or more — then lay out a white hand towel for a target at each distance and start practicing.

You’ll be surprised how accurate most throwers can be.

You might offer a few words of advice, as well. For example:

» In a real situation don’t worry about hitting a distressed swimmer; that’s what the foam padding is for (it also provides a good grip for the thrower).

» If a wind is blowing toward you, try to throw the stick a little beyond the struggling swimmer so the inflated preserver will be blown back to the swimmer and not out of reach. (The inflated preserver will have the dangling handle as a sort of sea anchor, slowing drift somewhat and thus making it easier for the swimmer to grab it.)

» Remind them there are three Sticks in the Rescue Box to provide multiple chances to get one close to the swimmer.