Ned Cabot, 69, was steering his yacht Cielita through a thunderstorm on Saturday when the vessel was struck by a rogue wave.
His body was recovered Sunday.
Family members said Cabot had made many journeys over the years between North America and Europe, and was familiar with the coastlines of Newfoundland and Labrador. His final journey had involved sailing by Greenland and then by Labrador.
Friend Peter Ellis had known Cabot for more than 40 years and accompanied him on one trip along the province's coast.
Ellis said Cabot loved Newfoundland and Labrador.
"Not only for its beauty but for the toughness, the self-reliance and the friendliness of the people we met along the way,” said Ellis. “I kind of think the area reminded him of earlier times and a simpler and maybe more authentic way of life that has largely disappeared from most of the U.S."
Born in Boston, Cabot graduated from Harvard Medical School, where he later taught. He worked as a surgeon in the Boston area, and volunteered with the Grenfell Mission in Labrador.
"After his retirement, Dr. Cabot devoted himself to his love of the sea and conservation concerns. He served as Chair of the Sea Education Association and was an early leader of Sailors For the Sea," the family said.
"A lifelong sailor, Dr. Cabot avidly explored the waters of the North Atlantic. With friends as crew, he circumnavigated Newfoundland at least twice before 2000."
Search and rescue officials dispatched a Cormorant helicopter and a Hercules aircraft, while HMCS Goose Bay patrolled waters about 16 km off Stephenville. The crew aboard the Cormorant located Cabot's body on Sunday morning.
Cabot is survived by his wife, four children, and three grandchildren.
"Dr. Cabot's family expresses its deepest gratitude to the personnel of the Canadian Coast Guard for their tireless search and rescue efforts on his behalf," the family said in a statement.