Searchers covered about 17,000 square miles between the Bahamas and South Florida for more than three days before calling off the operation.
The boat left Bimini in the Bahamas on Monday with a destination of Lake Worth, Fla., then disappeared, Coast Guard officials said. Lake Worth is about 63 miles north of Miami.
“Our thoughts and prayers go out to the families of the missing people,” said Capt. Stephen Burdian, chief of response for the Coast Guard’s seventh district. “I encourage anyone with information about the people aboard to contact us as soon as possible.”
The Coast Guard did not identify any passengers, but about 20 people were thought to be aboard the lost 29-foot vessel. The boat was scheduled to arrive in Florida on Tuesday.
The boat, a Mako Cuddy Cabin vessel, is typically used for recreation. The Coast Guard has not ruled out the possibility that the boat was a smuggling vessel.
“We don’t know if it is or not,” Coast Guard Petty Officer Jose Hernandez told the Sun-Sentinel of South Florida. “Regardless, the Coast Guard is committed to the safety of all mariners. We don’t want any lives lost at sea.”
The Coast Guard carried out the search with assistance from the Royal Bahamas Defense Force and the Bahamas Air Sea Rescue.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.