If I have understood currectly in the States, to sail offshore, or even to cross the Atlantic you will not need a license (that says you are able to do the job) nor any kind of mandatory equipment on the boat.
On most countries in Europe you need an offshore license (that you can only get after getting 3 or more other more basic licenses), you need a certified boat for offshore work (EC class A) and a mandatory requirement on equipment that include offshore liferaft, Epirb and a way of receiving long distance weather reports and (even if it is not mandatory on all countries) you need an insured boat (the marinas will nhot accept you if you do not have an insurance).
You can say that this takes away personal freedom... but who is going to pay for the search and rescue?
If we allow that badly prepared boats and sailors to do what they want in the future the freedom will finish for the rest of us. The costs of search and rescue operations are raising in such a way that it is a question of time that the contributors start to ask: Why am I paying a lot to allow some mad guys to do a dangerous thing?
It is absolutlly irresponsible to allow a boat offshore without am Epirb. It is dangerous to the sailors (and that it is their business) but will also make any search and rescue a very complicated and expensive affair, and that should also concern the ones that are paying that.
Anyone in the U.S. can buy a SAILBOAT and take off for wherever they'd like. Licenses would probably not do much to change the numbers of SAR's . Look at handguns. Licences ARE required for them, yet the US is seen as the murder-by-gun capital of the world.
Operating a POWERBOAT generally does require a license. They are issued by each individual state, usually by the Motor Vehicle Department. Most include a test that asks about how often the tires on your boat trailer should be changed, or how long after you change the color of your boat trailer should you notify the Motor Vehicle Department. Or how many people can get into a 4-person dinghy. Jeffersonian ideals (Thomas Jefferson -President 1801-1809) call for an educated electorate making the correct decisions in a Democracy, and generally credit the common man with making sensible choices. If someone doesn't have enough sense to know he shouldn't take a leaky seive across the Atlantic, it will be a learning experience for him.
The U.S. Coast Guard DOES does have lists of required equipment for vessels of different types and sizes. They are not equipped to stop every vessel to determine if they have each piece of required equipment, however. And EPIRBs are not a required item. If someone takes off for Tahiti short of sense or lifejackets, they can stop it if they see it. The scene is entirely different from Europe, however. Except for perhaps England, European countries have comparatively short coastlines. The state of Maine, by itself, has more than 10000 km of salt-water washing its jagged shores, and it is not the biggest state, nor the one with longest coast. There is no way to effectively control that much space with so many independent-thinking sailors. To give you an idea, US Sailing recently suggested that anyone racing be required to be one of their members. In Europe, this is a non-issue. If you want to race in France, you go to the regatta with your FFV inscription number: no problem. The tidal wave of rancor this idea met almost swamped US Sailing. There were calls for the ouster of the board and its un-designation as the body of record for the sport of sailing in the United States. So... we're willing to spend some big money on SAR, when necessary, but not $25 to join USSailing if it is REQUIRED.
Besides, isn't it usually the Australians (as in this thread) who are mounting the expensive SAR missions looking for dismasted or turtled Europeans most of the time? And the Europeans are the ones with licences!