Throw Bags, Accessories and WorkShops "Gear For Life"

2011/12 Life Vest Review

Field Review of the FORCE 6 RESCUER II Rescue Lifevest (PFD)
                                                                                  Fall, 2011 on Lee Creek, Arkansas
                                                                                  Jim Simmons, ass't by Jim Jones
                                                                                  (both ACA Instructors)
This is our field review report for the Force6 Rescuer II rescue lifevest. In 2007 our group of ACA instructors/boaters reviewed a Force6 SRS-201R rescue lifevest which is posted down below.

Two of the members of our group are not only recreational whitewater paddlers but are active in the state/regional/local efforts of Arkansas Search and Rescue personnel. Jim Jones regularly wears the Force6 Rescuer II when going on SAR outings. We also continue to use the 2007 Force6 vest and it has proven very durable.
Relative to the current status of rescue vests for SAR, Fire/Rescue, Law Enforcement, etc., this vest is about as good as it gets with many things to appreciate. In fact, Force6 advertises that they build the 'world's best rescue vests' and many who wear this vest consider it the 'gold standard' of vests. The Rescuer II is tough, well-made and it will provide long-lasting service to its owner.

RESULTS OF THE FIELD EVALUATION--Fall, 2011. We conducted the review on Lee Creek in the Arkansas Ozark Mountains, a class II-II+ stream. Our discussion of the vest is presented next, followed by two tables: A) Table One shows results of the rating scale we use, and B) Table Two gives product details, specifications and options, etc.

As with other reviews we've completed, in addition to the rating scale evaluations reviewers complete a subjective summary that includes pros and cons; what we really liked/disliked; and what worked well/didn't work well. Our overall impression of a vest looks at quality of workmanship, capability for a comfortable and snug fit; buoyancy and floatability when swimming, rescue applications and performance, and when used for paddling. While this vest is designed for SAR personnel, we evaluated its use for paddling comfort and performance as well.

This full-length vest is attractive, durable and well-built, all typical of Force6 quality. The 30 lbs of flotation (size L/XL) floats a swimmer well up on the surface, both when aggressively swimming and when engaging a victim. The bright red/orange fabric (420 Denier mil-spec nylon) is more shear than the usual cordura 500 D most often used, and it slips easily through the water. This fabric also seems to make it difficult for a victim to grap onto the rescuer when engaging in these type water drills.
Because it floats swimmers well we found it easy to swim over a strainer (simulating a tree trunk), or quite easy to re-enter a raft or open canoe in deep water. Most of the buoyant material is above the waist and equally distributed between the chest and back, giving maximum flotation even when handling the weight of a 'victim'.
The vest adjusts/fits well and does not 'ride up' the torso when swimming aggressively, especially if the vest is sized correctly. As with other reviews we continue to prefer regular sizing of vests (S,M,L, XL) because we feel regular sizing stays in place better. However, this vest stays put even though it has one-piece shoulder strap (foam) with no additional adjustment. This is achieved with a new 3-part waist belt design, plus it has armhole adjustment straps as well.

Two front pockets are streamlined, have good drainage and are surprisingly roomy for gear items. They include gear loops inside for attaching carabiners to prevent them falling out when unzipping the pockets (the '07 vest had detachable front and back pockets which were a bit cumbersome). There are also quick-release gear straps/loops on the lower side panels for attaching throw bags or other items. It has numerous lash tabs/attachment points for strobe lights, gear, knives, or other things.

We liked the impact protection this vest provides, something we believe should be a common feature of recreational style rescue vests for boaters as well. The wide shoulders of the vest cover the clavicle and neck area well and both front and back torso protection and cushioning is very good. Side torso protection is very adequate and better than other vests. Buckles are included for having optional leg harnesses or leg loops should the rescuer choose to attach them.

The extrication leash (self-tether, or cowtail), which is not included when purchasing a vest, can be positioned over the shoulder when being stowed. A carabiner pouch snaps it securely in place. This arrangement lessens entanglement risks if swimming or working around bushes in the water. Although we found the pouch snap rather awkward with cold fingers it works well. The release toggle is easy to locate and the leash functions easily when under pressure in the water (lowering drills). Perhaps a webbing tab could be added to the snap to help open it with cold fingers. Instead of the conventional 'O' ring a D-ring is used on the harness belt in the back. On all other vests we're reviewed we prefer that the 'O' ring (or D) have a section of permanent velcro that can keep it attached to the vest when stowed (always a handy feature).

It is difficult to find negatives with this vest because Force6 has thought about details that any discriminating rescuer would want, and it functions well in the field--a trusty companion. Strengths of this vest are its high buoyancy and the impact torso protection and cushioning for the wearer. We'd like to see it come with an 'owners manual' explaining details of the features it has, as well as explain technical aspects of rescue vests (Kokatat is one manufacturer that provides accompanying instructional materials with their vests). Besides the reflector tape on both front pockets reflector strips could also be included across the shoulders for better visibility if in deeper water. However, more can be added if desired. Finally, when the pockets are full of gear items the large/extra large size can be quite heavy, more so on land than when in the water.

Anyone purchasing this vest will not be disappointed with the quality and function!
Note: for big water rafting, because of 30 lbs flotation for this L/XLsize the Rescuer II would be a good choice in the event of an unexpected river swim. We also found the Rescuer II can be comfortably worn in all paddle craft except a small whitewater kayak. Obviously, whitewater kayak and open canoe paddlers are not likely to purchase this vest because of weight but the armholes were plenty roomy enough for paddling movements in all directions even for solo and tandem canoe paddling and it was comfortable.
For interested readers: Michael Croslin, developer of the Reach Rescue System and Strong Swimmer's Belt, has summarized the current status of rescue lifevests (PFDs) as well as future trends and needs, in a December, 2011 article in the Technical Rescue Magazine (issue #62).

Table one below shows results of the five point rating scale for the Rescuer II:
5--Excellent; 4--Good Performance; 3--Acceptable; 2--Needs Improving; 1--Poor
In all our reviews we don't typically award a rating of five (5) unless there are clearly not any negatives, hindances, or limiting factors on a particular criteria. As you'll notice in our ratings this vest gets high marks from our group.

TABLE 1. Rating Scale
Review Criteria

Force 6

Rescuer II

Ease entry and removal


Comfortable, snug fit 4+
Shoulder adjustments (a) -
Torso adjustments 4+
Visibility daytime/water


Visibility nighttime/water (b) 4-
Easy acess to pockets 5
Carrying capacity basis items


Freedom mvt. paddling 4
Buoyancy in river swims 5
Fits different sizes well (c) 4
Not 'ride up' when swimming 5
*QRHS under tension 4+
Ease releasing toggle/ext.leash 4+
Snug fit after releasing harness 5

Self-rescue over strainer; back

into raft or open canoe

Upper front torso protection 5
Upper back torso protection 5
Lower torso progection 5
Side panel protection (rib area) 4+
Overall impression of the vest 4+
*ORHS--includes webbing belt, a stainless steel tri-glide buckle (3-bar); a black cam buckle; and the release toggle.
(a) no separate adjustments required on shoulder straps.
(b) more can be added to the vest.
(c) overlapping sized vests may not fit well for persons in the low end of a sizing range. The Rescuer II we used was size L/XL (44"--62").

TABLE 2. Product Details, Specifications, Options and Features

Force 6


Model Rescuer II
Type vest Full length
Review color

Bright red (orange)

only color choice

Retail price $259
Size options

M/L-chest 32"-52"

(26 lbs buoyancy);

L/XL-chest 44"-62"

(30 lbs buoyancy)

Review size L/XL
Flotation 30 lbs
Approval (a)

Construction materials

UL tested & certified


International Rescue

Instructors Authority


420 Denier mil-spec nylon

(inside and out)



Extrication leash;


Yes; Optional

Lash/tabs, attachment


Pockets Two front (each side)
Reflective tape/piping Yes

Crotch attachment (for

straps or leg loops)


Environmentally friendly

buoyant material

Not mentioned
(a) the vest does not have U.S. CG approval, but hopefully in the future, reciprocity will take place between the U.S. and Canada approval agencies.
Jim Simmons, 12/2011. ACA Instructor, Jim Jones, assisted with this report.

FIELD REVIEW of a Force6 SRS-201R Rescue Vest in 2007

THE SRS-201R SWR RESCUE PFD BY FORCE 6 (Vancouver, Canada).
                                                                                                                                     - Jim Simmons

This is a rescue vest made for professional rescuers and instructors. The owner of one of these you should be practiced in using a rescue vest and familiar with the capabilities and features of this specific vest. Because it has 26 lbs. flotation it might be a good choice by rafters who boat in big water. The SRS-201R has a rugged, well made feel with some excellent features and designs. We liked a lot of things about it.

Three ACA Instructors, along with whitewater boaters trained in swiftwater rescue, reviewed the vest on the Lower Mulberry River, Arkansas in Spring, 2007. We put it through the similar drills that we have done with rescue vests manufactured for whitewater boaters.

Factors/Characteristics we liked:
1. PFD fabric of ripstop nylon (instead of cordura), which is lighter, dries faster, and seems to be less resistant when aggressively swimming in current.
2. Large pockets in front and back giving plenty of carrying capacity for rescue items. Both can be removed if desired. The vest has lash tabs conveniently located for attaching a rescue knife, strobe light, etc.
3. Wide shoulder straps with flotation provide good clavicle and upper torso protection from 'hits' when working/swimming in the river. Even though the vest has 26 lbs, the flotation is distributed to provide good mobility when river swimming. We were pleasantly surprised at this characteristic.
4. To cushion blows to the back/spine the two rear sections have polymer panels running the length of and between the foam floation panels, a useful addition.
5. The rust/red/orange color is highly visible in daytime when a rescuer is in the river and the reflector tape, which can be removed, is easily seen in dim light or at night. A strip on one shoulder allows others to see a rescuer who may be deep in the water.
6. We all liked the over-the-shoulder extrication leash that can be placed over either shoulder accommodating dominant hand. This manner of storing the tether (extrication leash) reduces snag potential and is a definite improvement over other rescue vests we have worn and reviewed.
7. With the center pocket stuffed full of rescue items, the pocket did not impede progress when self-rescuing over a strainer pole (we use a 10 inch diameter pole). We attributed this to the ripstop fabric which is smoother than cordura, and the flotation in the shoulder straps which rides the swimmer higher in the water.

Things we noticed:
1. Keeper straps (which can be removed) are positioned under the armpits to prevent any possibility of the vest riding up the torso. Even when removed by one larger person, the vest still stayed in place. Also, because of plenty of adjustment straps, and the keeper strap, the vest did not ride up the torso when worn by smaller rescuers.
2. Even though this vest is bulkier than rescue vests recreational whitewater paddlers normally wear, we found that swimming with it and general in-water work gave us a secure feeling.
3. We all appreciated the feature of the extrication leash attaching with velcro over either shoulder, however the snap that fastens the pouch storing the extrication leash is difficult to close and unclose with cold, wet fingers.
4. For larger paddlers (as with most universal sized vests we've reviewed), when the SRS is fitted to fit large sizes, it then lacks side torso protection. As it is cinched down to fit regular size rescuers/paddlers it provides good side torso protection.
5 The D-ring in back (instead of an 'O' ring) tends to rotate around and defeats the configuration of the D shape staying flat against the Quick Release Harness Belt.

Suggestions we have:
1. Side torso inserts that could be placed in pockets when the vest is let out to fit a large rescuer, providing better side torso protection for a larger rescuer, or for that matter, all rescuers wearing it.
2. Provisions for crotch straps to be added if desired.

SRS--201 retails for $244.00 US.

Jim Simmons--8/03/2005

Contact Information for Force 6:
Force 6 Safety Products, Inc.
3340 Ullsmore Ave
Richmond, BC V7C 1S1
604.244.3026 (Fax)

Website Builder