‘We Will Not Give Up': Families of Florida Teens Missing at Sea Hold Onto Hope

The U.S. Coast Guard is now in the fourth day of an extensive search for Perry Cohen and Austin Stephanos.

The families of two 14-year-old fishermen who disappeared on a boating trip off the Florida coast Friday continue to hold onto hope that their children will return home safe, saying the teens' skills and experience in the water could help them survive in the open sea.  

"If you're not surrounded in this community or you don't have it running through your blood, you'll never be able to understand it, but we can assure everyone that these boys are skilled and knowledgeable and strong enough and have what they need to get through this," Pamela Cohen, whose son is one of the missing boys, told NBC's "Today" on Tuesday. 

The U.S. Coast Guard is now in the fourth day of an extensive search for Perry Cohen and Austin Stephanos, who set off for a fishing trip on Friday from Jupiter and were believed to be headed to the Bahamas. They were last seen that same day near the Ponce De Leon Inlet, near Cape Canaveral in central Florida, buying $110 worth of gas.

The boys have not been seen or heard from since. Their 19-foot white single-engine boat was located Sunday, capsized and unmanned roughly 67 miles off the shore of their last known location.

On Tuesday, crews checked out an object found in the water that turned out to be a styrofoam cooler unrelated to the boys.

Despite the length of time they've been missing and their relatively young ages, their families say the boys are experienced boaters who were practically raised in the water — attributes they say could help the teens survive. 

"These children are surrounded by water from the moment that they're born," she says. "Perry knew how to swim before he knew how to walk."

Austin's mother, Carly Black, echoed the same sentiments.

"Austin has been on the water since before he could walk," Black told "Today." "This is his fourth boat. This isn't new to them. These boys have been doing this...it's not even second nature at this point. It's in their blood. They're out there."

Nick Korniloff, Perry's stepfather, said Monday that the boys were supposed to stay on the river and waterway, and were not supposed to be out in the ocean. Still, the family still contends that the teen boaters have enough experience to help bring them home.

"We know that people have been out there longer, people have survived. We have to keep going," Korniloff said. "We will not give up. We believe the boys are still out there."

The boat had multiple life jackets on board, but officials only found one when the boat was recovered, Perry's mother told MSNBC. A Yamaha engine cover and a white YETI cooler also were missing from the boat when it was found by authorities. Coast Guard officials theorize that the boys may have taken these items in order to build a makeshift flotation device.

Coast Guard Petty Officer Steve Lehmann says that ocean drift patterns have complicated the search efforts, but that the Coast Guard has re-calculated its search plans based on the boat's location.

The Coast Guard announced Tuesday that in the past 72-hours they've searched roughly 28,000 square nautical miles and completed 36 separate searches as far north as Jacksonville — 270 miles north of Jupiter and 100 miles north of where the capsized boat was found.

The two families, along with New York Jets Hall of Fame quarterback Joe Namath, a neighbor of the Cohen family, are offering a $100,000 reward to anyone who helps bring the two boys home safely.

"We're just going to continue to try to find those kids," Namath said Monday. "Anyone out there understands when someone needs help we should lend a hand."

On Monday evening, hundreds of family and friends gathered for another vigil at Jupiter Beach, praying for the teens and releasing lanterns off into the sea.

"I've been praying every day and doing everything I can possibly do to make them come home," a friend said through tears.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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