A boater whose disappearance has sparked a huge search operation on the Norfolk Broads was living on the water following the tragic death of his partner, it has emerged.

David Cubberley's empty 20ft cabin cruiser was found drifting in reeds in Candle Dyke, just off Hickling Broad, on Saturday. The search for him is now in its fifth day.

Now, a close friend of Mr Cubberley's has spoken of how the 65-year-old had been "going through a tough time" since his partner died after falling down the stairs of their home in Cromer two years ago. 

Eastern Daily Press: David Cubberley's boat being searched by police and search and rescue crews at Potter Heigham David Cubberley's boat being searched by police and search and rescue crews at Potter Heigham (Image: Sonya Duncan)

"His partner, Felicity, died in September 2022 after falling down the stairs at their Cromer flat," Mr Cubberley's friend David, who lives in Hickling, said.

"They had been together for 40 years and it really took a toll on him.

"He found it difficult to live there after her death and started living on the boat with his dog.

READ MORE: Angler describes eerie discovery of missing man's boat - with food left on the table

"He was generally believed to be a vulnerable person, with various locals helping him out, doing his washing and just keeping an eye on him.

"I had many chats with him. He was a very articulate, gentle soul.

"He had gone to art college as a young man."

Eastern Daily Press: David CubberleyDavid Cubberley (Image: Norfolk Police)

Mr Cubberley's abandoned boat was found adrift by fishermen. They went alongside and looked into the vessel, where they said food had been left on a table. His dog was found in a field nearby earlier that day. 

READ MORE: Major search under way on Norfolk Broads after boater vanishes

Mr Cubberley used to keep the boat, Fun 4 Us 2, at the Pleasure Boat staithe in Hickling, but his friend David said he had been moored near the more remote Candle Dyke for the last six weeks.

Eastern Daily Press: David Cubberley's boat at Potter HeighamDavid Cubberley's boat at Potter Heigham (Image: Sonya Duncan)

"He was always very conscious out about locking his front cabin when he went for walks with his dog, but the person who reported his boat drifting away said his front cabin was open, which didn’t feel right," David said.

"We had been to see him and take him water three weeks ago.

"Where he was moored was very remote and a trek to get to. We tried to go down on Saturday but it was flooded and you couldn’t get there without waders. It’s very sad.

"He didn’t have a bad bone in his body. He was a gentle, well-mannered, likeable person going through a hard time."