U.S. Coast Guard officials say weather conditions on the Atlantic Ocean have been steadily improving in the ongoing search for the captain of the Nova Scotia-built replica tall ship HMS Bounty.

Robin Walbridge has been missing since Monday morning, when the crew of HMS Bounty decided to abandon ship in high seas brought on by Hurricane Sandy off the coast of North Carolina. Walbridge didn't make it to a life raft with the rest of his crew.

Capt. Doug Cameron, of the U.S. Coast Guard command centre in Portsmouth, Va., said searchers believe Walbridge may still be alive. It was reported Tuesday that Walbridge was wearing a survival suit, which could increase his odds of survival.

Survival suits

A survival suit is a large rubber suit designed to keep the wearer dry and warm even in frigid water. A properly fitted suit won't let water come into contact with the wearer's body. A soft plastic spray hood prevents water from splashing on the wearer's face.

A certified survival suit has been approved by Transport Canada and/or the U.S. Coast Guard. Suits with a Canadian certification have to meet the "262" requirement, which means that in 2 degrees Celsius water, over a period of six hours a person's body will experience no more than a 2-degree drop in temperature.

Certified suits have to be able to float, but do not necessarily provide the same level of flotation as a life-jacket. Most survival suits are designed to be paired with a life-jacket that keeps your head up and prevents you from drowning.

"As of now, our intent is to continue searching for the missing person," he said in a statement Wednesday.

"This is still an active search, not a recovery effort. Factors such as fitness of the member, weather conditions, survival equipment and the results from previous searches are taken into consideration to determine how long the coast guard will search."

The coast guard is searching an area of approximately 2,778 square kilometres, roughly where the 16 crew members of HMS Bounty decided to abandon ship after getting caught in 5.5-metre seas.

The Bounty sank several hours after the evacuation.

The crew members tried to get to covered life-rafts, but three of them were washed overboard in the process. One of the three people made it to a life-raft and was among the 14 people hoisted onto helicopters and taken to shore.

Body of deckhand recovered

Walbridge, 63, and deckhand Claudene Christian, 42, were the other two people swept overboard.

Christian's body was recovered from the seas on Monday.

As the searched for Walbridge moved into its third day, the U.S. Coast Guard said the water temperature in the area is 25 C and the air temperature 17.7 C.

Petty Officer 1st Class Jordan Campbell said conditions in the search zone have improved since Hurricane Sandy bore down on the area earlier this week. The seas were 3.5 to 4.5 metres high on Wednesday, he said.

"We are going to search throughout the day with the Coast Guard cutter," Campbell said Wednesday morning.

"We don't have an average search time and right now, there's no end in sight that we've discussed."

The replica of HMS Bounty, which launched in Lunenburg in 1960, was made famous in a 1962 movie starring Marlon Brando — Mutiny on the Bounty. It has also appeared in Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest starring Johnny Depp.