The U.S. Coast Guard spent more than a week looking for Perry Cohen and Austin Stephanos, both 14, who disappeared after their 19-ft., single-engine fishing boat apparently capsized about 67 miles off the coast of the Ponce de Leon Inlet.
On July 31, the Coast Guard called off its search, but the families pressed on with their own rescue efforts, thanks to donations. They leaned on volunteers to scour waters near Georgia and the Carolinas with private planes, boats and search dogs.
On Saturday, the families made the heartbreaking decision to suspend their search.
"Today, our hope becomes our prayer – that one day Perry and Austin will be returned to us," the families of the teens said in a joint statement, the Palm Beach Post reports.
"Absent new information, continuing the search is not practical," a family spokesperson told the newspaper on Sunday.
When the teens first disappeared, the families cited their boating experience and the warm water temperatures as reasons to hope they were still alive.
"With the water temperatures being a little warmer than typical, a person could survive for four or five days, possibly longer if they hang on to anything that floats," said Chris Caplan, who'd been searching for the teens in a friend's plane. "These boys are everyday boaters. They know what to do to survive."
It's estimated the Coast Guard searched an area roughly the size of Kentucky – some 41,000 square miles.
The teens, who were last seen buying fuel for their boat near Jupiter on July 24, were described as strong-willed by Blu Stephanos, Austin's father, in an interview with Fox News.
"They have a Yeti cooler, a 65-gallon cooler, they have three life jackets, a throw cushion, and I know they've got the will, they've got the want, and they have the skills. So there's no doubt in my mind that they're still out there and they're still waiting to be found," he previously told the TV station.
USA Today reports that the families plan to start a foundation in honor of the boys that will promote youth boating education and work on legislative action to ensure safer boating.