Originally Posted by eherlihy
... and I believe Canada, a license is NOT required. However, if you go abroad, the license will probably be necessary for the countries that you visit.
A quick Canadian clarification as I see you're a fellow Canuck.
1. You do not need to be certified to purchase or own a VHF radio (called a 'station')
2. You do not need to be certified to use a VHF radio in a distress situation.
3. You DO need to be certified (ROC-M) to use a VHF radio in all other situations.
4. If you operate solely within Canada, non-territorial waters and countries with which we have a treaty, this does NOT include USA, then the actual VHF radio does not need a licence.
5. If you operate in foreign waters, this includes USA, then you need a station licence from Industry Canada.
6. To use DSC, you must register (free) for an MMSI number before you can use the features.
There are some really stiff penalties for breaking the rules of usage so you'll want to take a Canadian Power Squadron course to obtain your "Restricted Operator Certificate - Maritime" (ROC-M) certificate.
There is very little reason to not have a VHF radio on board and many reasons to have one (even if you do not have your ROC-M); Almost every boat I know has one.
DSC is the way to go if you are out on the Great Lakes or beyond but may be less useful if you're just on the river; The key being that you must, by law, have a GPS connected to the device or manually update your position every 4 hours. The latter defeats a key feature of the system.
Be sure to check out Canadian Power and Sail Squadrons
or call 1-888-CPS-BOAT for details.
(I have no affiliation to the above)
My wife is taking the VHF course as we speak so if you have any questions, I have the manual right here.