Forensic police on Saturday began examining a deserted catamaran found drifting off Australia's Great Barrier Reef -- with the sails up, engine running and food on the table -- for clues about the three missing crew members.

The three men were last seen Sunday leaving the northeastern town of Airlie Beach. On Wednesday, a patrol plane spotted their 12-meter (40-foot) catamaran drifting aimlessly, its headsail battered and torn, some 150 kilometers (93.21 miles) offshore.

When rescue crews finally boarded the vessel, named Kaz II, early Friday, they found the engines running, computers charging, even food and cutlery laid out on the table -- but no crew.

The mast was damaged and the headsail had been shredded, but no distress call had been made.

Police launched a massive sea and air rescue Friday spanning a stretch of coast around 700 nautical miles long, but found no trace of the missing men.

The search resumed at first light Saturday, with two helicopters, two volunteer rescue boats, and water police scouring a narrower stretch of ocean from the town of Bowen south to Airlie Beach, where officials believe the men may have fallen overboard in rough seas.

"We do believe they had a mishap on Sunday and the crew ended up in the water," police superintendent Roy Wall told The Australian newspaper for its Saturday edition. "No one has been steering since Sunday."

Marine authorities towed the Kaz II back to shore overnight, and forensic inspectors began examining the vessel's global positioning system and laptops early Saturday.

Media reports said the missing men are skipper Derek Batten, 56, and two of his neighbors -- brothers named Peter and James Tunstead, ages 69 and 63, from Western Australia state's capital, Perth. Police would not confirm their identities.

The daughter of James Tunstead said her family was hoping the three were in a dinghy and that the catamaran had drifted away because they forgot to anchor it.

"That's what we are hoping, that they forgot to anchor it (the catamaran) and it's drifted off -- the three idiots -- and (they have) not been able to get back to it," Keryn Grey told the Seven Network television Friday.

But emergency officials said a dinghy was found on board the catamaran, along with its emergency beacon and three life jackets.

The men had set out from Airlie Beach on Sunday, and were planning to sail around northern Australia to Western Australia state.

Grey said the trip was supposed to take the trio six to eight weeks.

"They were just going to stop every night, anchor close to shore all the way back around the top and down the coast," she said. "It was going to be their trip of a lifetime."

The men are reportedly keen fishermen.