The search for the missing 28-year-old rock fisherman at Little Beacroft's Mermaid Beach, near Currarong, was suspended on Monday afternoon.
Marine Rescue NSW marketing and media officer Ken McManus said marine rescue boats had been stood down.
Marine Rescue Illawarra regional controller Bruce Mitchell said the suspension of the search was a chance to give crews a rest.
He said conditions had been very rough.
“It’s not a real good place to be in that location,” Mr Mitchell said.
“You get the backwash off the cliffs and it makes it very uncomfortable in a boat out there.
“There’s about a one and a half metre swell but as it rolls in it hits the cliff and creates turbulence… the swells are pretty solid as they’re hitting the cliff, there’s a lot of force in them.”
He said grave concerns were held for the fisherman’s well being.
“It’s coming up to 10 hours, we managed to locate a life ring and a small esky but unfortunately the person wasn’t with them.”
The search started after reports the fisherman had been swept off rocks at Mermaid Beach, near Jervis Bay, at 2.20am on Monday morning.
A NSW Police spokeswoman said the man was fishing with three others at the time and one of his friends threw a buoyancy ring into the water in an attempt to save him.
Police said he could not swim and it is believed he was not wearing a life jacket.
Local police will continue foot patrols of the shore.
Rock fishing safety tips:
• Make inquiries and check conditions before you leave home. There are various websites and channels where you can obtain this information, including the Weather Information Line on 1900 937 107;
• Observe first, fish later: watch your intended fishing spot to get an idea of the conditions over a full swell/wave cycle;
• Never fish by yourself – participate in a group of at least three people and within sight of each other;
• Make sure you let family and friends know where you are going and when you’ll be back;
• Fishermen should wear light clothing;
• Wear appropriate footwear; with non-slip soles or cleats;
• Carry safety gear; head protection, as well as a float and line to help anyone else who might be washed into the water;
• Never fish in exposed areas during rough or large seas and be aware that conditions may change dramatically in a short period of time;
• Stay alert. Do not ever turn your back on the sea: if waves, the weather or swell threaten your fishing spot then leave immediately; and
• Always wear a life jacke