After nearly four full days of searching, U.S. Coast Guard officials have decided to suspend their search for the missing captain of HMS Bounty.

Robin Walbridge, 63, 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.

"Our thoughts and prayers are with the Walbridge and Christian families," said Captain Doug Cameron, the chief of incident response for the Coast Guard 5th District. "Suspending a search and rescue case is one of the hardest decisions to make."

As the crew members scrambled to get to covered life-rafts, three of them — including Walbridge and deckhand Claudene Christian, 42 — were washed overboard. Walbridge has not been seen since. Christian's body was recovered from the seas on Monday.

According to the surviving crew members of HMS Bounty, Walbridge was wearing a survival suit, a large rubber suit designed to keep the wearer dry and warm even in frigid water.

The 16 crew members of the vessel decided to abandon ship after getting caught in 5.5-metre seas about 320 kilometres southeast of Hatteras, N.C.

The Bounty sank several hours after the evacuation.

The third person who was washed overboard made it to a life-raft and was among the 14 people hoisted onto helicopters and taken to shore.

Thousands of square kilometres searched

U.S. Coast Guard officials said conditions on the ocean were getting better with each passing day. Thursday brought 26 C water temperatures and 16.6 C air temperatures, along with 27 knot winds and 1.2 metre waves.

Searchers covered thousands of square kilometres of ocean since the rescue effort began on Monday.

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.