EXPERTS said today there were reasons for optimism that a Hampshire sailor missing in the Atlantic Ocean is still alive.

They spoke out as the search resumed for James Male and his three crewmates after more than 220,000 people signed an online petition.

The pressure paid off as the US Coastguard announced last night that the hunt for the four British yachtsmen was back on.

James, 23, from Romsey, 21-year-old Andrew Bridge from Surrey, and 52-year-old Steve Warren and 56-year-old Paul Goslin, both from Somerset, were on their way back to Southampton from a sailing event in the Caribbean when their Cheeki Rafiki yacht started to take on water on Thursday.

All contact was lost with their yacht in the early hours of Friday and a huge search operation was launched by the US Coastguard but was called off on Sunday amid bad weather.

Responding to the news that the search was back on, Prime Minster David Cameron tweeted: “My thanks to the US Coastguard who has resumed its search for our missing yachtsmen."

James’ father, Graham Male, also from Romsey, said his family was “over the moon” at the news.

He added that he was optimistic that they would now find out what has happened to the Cheeki Rafiki and added: “We have to get some kind of resolution now. “We are really optimistic that we are going to find them.

“We are just average people. We don’t plan to be in these situations, so the knowledge that we have all these people behind us has been great.”

Word that the search was back on came as families of the missing sailors headed to London for talks at the Foreign Office and the US Embassy.

They were given more details of that renewed search during those meetings, which Mr Male described as a “very positive”.

He added: “Now let’s bring our loved ones home.”

Darren Williams, James Male’s uncle, said: “It’s fantastic news. Our reaction that this is just the next step, it’s not the end and what they have got to do now is find them.

“We haven't given up, and we also know there are some sail boats heading back over the Atlantic who are keeping their eyes peeled. We just want another air search.”

Last night the US Coastguard confirmed that they were resuming an active search at the request of the British Government, and not due to any new information.

They added that several aircraft and vessels were now trying to find the yachtsmen, with crews from the US Coastguard, US Aif Force, Canadian military “en route” last night.

Today sailing experts told the Daily Echo they believed the four men could still be alive.

Matthew Sheahan, who was forced to abandon ship during the 1979 Fastnet race, said there have been examples of people surviving after more than 100 days on a life raft.

Matthew, who is now racing and technical editor of Yachting World magazine, said: “Survival depends on so many factors. It depends on your physical state, whether you are hypothermic or suffered an injury, and it depends on the weather as well.

“If we are talking about known extremes, in the early 1970s the best known cases of sea survival was the Robertson family, who survived for 37 days after their boat was hit by a whale in the Pacific.

“But the most extraordinary case was in 1972 when Maurice and Maralyn Bailey survived for 117 days in a life raft.

“Their situation was very different because it was relatively benign conditions, but never the less it is an extreme example of what can happen.

“It is possible to survive for a very long period of time.”

Keith Hopkins, senior lecturer in maritime and offshore safety at Warsash Maritime Academy, said one of the most important considerations for the sailors would be rations.

He said: “The raft is likely to have contained some rations, and hopefully they would have had the opportunity to take more onto the raft.

“They would be ensuring they were eking out those rations to the maximum.

“The Atlantic at this time of year will still be quite cold – 15C (59F) – and then you have to consider the air chill. Hopefully they were also able to take more clothing on the raft.

“In terms of the conditions, it’s not just the waves that are the issue, there’s also the swell, the underlying ocean movement.

“But the rafts offer good protection, it’s surprising how warm they can be, but a lot of it is going to be down to the base layers of clothing they have on.

“It is several days now, but there’s no reason to be pessimistic and we should remain optimistic.”

Mike Crocott, professor in anaesthesia and critical care at the University of Southampton, added: “It’s plausible you can survive for a long period of time assuming the weather is not hostile.

“They need to try and keep themselves warm and keep themselves dry.”