Fayetteville police said they believe a 60-year-old man dived into the river around 1 p.m. and hasn't been seen since.
Officials will resume the search Saturday morning in what authorities are now calling a recovery operation.
Witnesses said the man brought his boat to the river and it began to drift off the trailer.
That's when the man dived in, they said.
Around 2:45 p.m., authorities got a call from another boater who found the man's boat 100 yards away from the trailer.
Ricky Dawson said he is best friends with the missing man.
"That's my best friend. That's my best friend out there," Dawson told ABC11. "He tried to get me to go with him. I told him 'no, sir'. I've always been scared of this river, and I've never been on it."
Dawsom was at the scene all afternoon and said he's known the man for a long time and had spoken to him Friday morning.
"He was telling me today about that crane," Dawson said. "He said, 'man's that just beautiful.' He's just a nature guy. He just likes to see nature."
Police, wildlife resource officers, fire rescue and Cumberland County deputies are involved in the search.
DEVELOPING: A water rescue is currently underway at Cape Fear River off of Person Street in Fayetteville. Police say they believe a man jumped into the river to retrieve a loose boat. He has not been seen since. @ABC11_WTVD pic.twitter.com/Vm2oYYSpAT— Michael Lozano (@MLozanoABC11) July 26, 2019
They brought a rescue boat into the river and there is also a drone deployed to help search from above.
A dive team was in the water as the fire marshal said it looks like a recovery effort at this point.