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Since local government re-organisation in 1974, Windermere and its shores have been entirely within the non-metropolitan county of Cumbria and the district of South Lakeland. Most planning matters concerned with the lake are, however, the responsibility of the Lake District National Park Authority.
The Windermere Ferry, a vehicle carrying cable ferry, runs across the lake from Ferry Nab on the eastern side of the lake to Far Sawrey on the western side of the lake. This service forms part of the B5285.
There are also several passenger services that serve the length of the lake. These date back to the railway era, providing connection at Lakeside with a former Furness Railway branch, and were at one time operated by British Rail, the former state-owned rail operator. Since privatised, three of the old railway boats are operated by Windermere Lake Cruises Ltd, along with a fleet of smaller and more modern launches. Although often described as steamers, the former railway boats are all in fact motor vessels, and are the MV Tern of 1891, the MV Teal of 1936, and the MV Swan of 1938.
There are two large boating clubs based around the lake; the Royal Windermere Yacht Club, and the Windermere Cruising Association. The Royal Windermere Yacht club maintain a set of turning marks on the lake, which the Windermere Cruising Association also use. Most of the competitive sailing on the lake is coordinated by the Windermere Cruising Association, this includes the popular Winter Series which is not hindered by large waves caused by gales, that often causes racing on the sea to be cancelled.
On Friday 13 June 1930, Sir Henry Segrave broke the world water speed record on Windermere in his boat, Miss England II at an average speed of 158.94 km/h (98.76 mph). On the third run over the course, off Belle Grange, the boat capsized. Segrave's mechanic, Victor Helliwell drowned, but Segrave was rescued by support boats. He died a short time later of his injuries. Segrave was one of the few people in history who have held the world land speed record and water speed record simultaneously.
Racer Norman Buckley set several world water speed records on Windermere in the 1950s.
For many years, power-boating and water-skiing have been popular activities on the lake. In March 2000, however, the Lake District National Park Authority controversially introduced a byelaw setting a 10 knot (11.5 mph, 18.5 km/h) speed limit for all powered craft on the lake, in addition to an existing 6 knot speed limit for all craft on the upper, lower, and middle sections of the lake. While the byelaw technically came into force in 2000, there was a five year transition period and the new speed limits were only enforced from 29 March 2005. Despite the speed limits a significant number of people continue to use power-boats on the lake, both legally and illegally.
Many organisations support the move, primarily on the grounds of restoring the tranquil nature of the lake and making it safer and more accessible for all users. Opponents, particularly those interested in the affected sports, are concerned by the lack of other suitable inland waters to which to move these activities, and the effect on many local businesses that reduced visitor numbers would have.