The boat VHF radio is probably the most useful radio communication equipment available. It allows simple and easy ship to ship, or ship to shore communications. The one disadvantage is however that range of a marine VHF radio is line of sight and this is typically around 35 miles. More about VHF aerials and radio range below.
All countries have boat VHF radio licensing regulations that must be adhered to. Failure to comply may result in prosecution and fines. All boat VHF installations must possess a station license issued by the appropriate national communications authority, i.e. FCC. At least one operator, normally the person registering the installation should possess an operator's license or certificate such as Restricted Radiotelephone Operator Permit (RROP) or other document. See details below for USA, Australia and the UK below and check with the requirements of your local jurisdiction.
USA. In the United States the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is the regulator and they have criteria for the requirement for a radio operators license or permit is required. Criteria included the vessel type and size, along with the area the boat is operating, who the communications are with and the radio equipment to be used. The majority of recreational boaters do not require a license. So if your boat is under 300 tons, does not carry more than 6 passengers for hire, is not a MF or HF radio, is not communication with foreign radio stations then you do not need a license. Note that DSC VHF along with SatCom and SSB radios have different requirements. You can obtain these various licenses online at the FCC websites
If you plan on departing US waters, you will have to obtain several FCC licenses which will cover marine radio equipment on your vessel as operator licenses. You will have to get a FRN number to start with. The Ship’s Station License (SSL) assigns you a call sign, and this covers your VHF radio, Radar, EPIRB and any other transmitting radio equipment. Make sure you include current and planned equipment purchases so you are covered. Also you should request your MMSI number as you will need this for satellite EPIRB’s and GMDSS DSC VHF radios. It should be mentioned that you should make sure all your equipment is registered that includes the EPIRB, DSC VHF radio, SSB radio, PLB and so on.
UK. In the UK you will need a similar Ship’s Radio License. Handheld VHF/DSC radios require a special license. You will need to get a Short Range Certificate (SRC) for operating VHF and VHF DSC radios. There is also the Long Range Certificate (LRC), to operate MF/HF/VHF equipment that be required to fit GMDSS (Global Maritime Distress and Safety System) equipment beyond sea area A1. These are administered by AMERC in the UK.
Australia. In Australia there is the Australian Waters Qualification (AWQ). There is also the Long Range Operator Certificate of Proficiency (LROCP), the Short Range Operator Certificate of Proficiency (SROCP) and the Global Maritime Distress and Safety System (GMDSS) General Operators Certificate of Proficiency (GOCP). Check out details at ACMA. More about safe fishing and boats and all about boat radios.