Computer controllers check search-pattern maps while trying to find a missing yacht off the coast of Massachusetts, from the command centre at the US Coast Guard district headquarters in Boston. Picture: Charles Krupa

Boston -

The US Coast Guard will suspend its search for a British yacht missing in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean by midnight on Friday if efforts by American, British and Canadian rescuers turn up no signs of the Cheeki Rafiki or its four-member crew, an official in Boston said on Thursday.

Captain Anthony Popiel, who is overseeing the search, said rescue crews have already covered more than 17 000 square miles of ocean and turned up only debris unrelated to the ship.

He said a US Navy warship joined the search on Thursday and a Coast Guard cutter was scheduled to arrive later on Thursday night.

Popiel says the British government and the families of the lost sailors in the UK are aware of the Coast Guard's plans.

The Cheeki Rafiki had been returning to England from a regatta in Antigua when it reported trouble last Thursday.

Contact with the crew - which included 22-year-old captain Andrew Bridge and crew members James Male, 23, Steve Warren, 52, and Paul Goslin, 56 - was lost on Friday, May 16. - Sapa-AP