WOODS HARBOUR, N.S. -- A pall has fallen over a tiny community in southwestern Nova Scotia as it copes with news that the search for five fishermen is over because there is little hope for their survival.

"It's deep sadness. We're going to rally together," said Phil Williams, a Baptist pastor in Woods Harbour. "This wonderful community is going to be extending their support to their neighbours, especially to these five precious families."

The search for the young men and their capsized boat became a missing persons case late Tuesday and is now with the RCMP.

Two coast guard vessels and five aircraft covered more than 18,000 square kilometres of ocean since a distress signal was received from the fishing boat Sunday after 11 p.m.

Williams said hundreds of people have attended a prayer vigil at his small church, where five candles were lit for the men.

The military says the 13-metre fishing boat Miss Ally capsized about 120 kilometres southeast of Liverpool as it was tossed about by 10 metre waves whipped up by winds approaching hurricane force late Sunday. The ocean temperature at the time was hovering between 2 C and 4 C.

Williams said he has visited with all the families of the men and they have different opinions on the decision to reduce the search.

"The disbelief about it all, that's what we're feeling," he said.

"There are two main opinions: those who feel the search should continue on and on and on, and those who have just come to the realization that enough has been done."

The Mounties were expected to formally identify the men later Wednesday. But their names were projected on a wall during a local prayer service Tuesday evening: Katlin Nickerson, Billy Jack Hatfield, Joel Hopkins, Cole Nickerson and Tyson Townsend.

Karen Nickerson, the stepmother of 28-year-old crew member Steven (Cole) Nickerson, said she's grateful for the support the family is receiving from neighbours.

"Everyone's feeling it," she said in a phone interview. "It's a close community and Cole was very much involved in it."

She said she and her husband had hoped that the search would go on for another 12 hours.

"We really thought they deserved it ... that they'd search longer," she said.

The Joint Rescue Co-ordination Centre in Halifax said it made its decision to call off the search because of "frigid water and poor weather conditions."

Williams said the tragedy is the hardest to hit the community in the 13 years he's lived there and has brought painful memories for older residents who remember others losses at sea.

"These fishermen for decades have lived out of the sea, they've encountered shipwrecks and lost loves ones. We're no strangers to hardship and pain concerning storms."

The men were on an extended trip to catch halibut before the boat went down.

The Transportation Safety Board has sent investigators to Clark's Harbour, N.S., to assess what happened.