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Before 1974 Windermere, the lake, lay wholly within the county of Westmorland; however, the historic county boundary between Lancashire and Westmorland runs down the western shore of the lake and also along about three miles (5 km) of the southern section of the eastern shore. Drivers crossing the lake on the Windermere Ferry thus travel from the historic county of Westmorland to that of Lancashire if they cross the lake in an westerly direction.
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.
Passenger services serve the length of the lake, from Lakeside railway station, on the Lakeside and Haverthwaite heritage steam railway at the southern end of the lake, to Waterhead Bay near Ambleside in the north. Intermediate stops are made at Bowness and, by smaller launches only, at Brockhole. Some boats only operate part of the route, or operate out and back cruises, whilst others run the whole distance.
These services date back to the former Furness Railway, who built the Lakeside branch, and were at one time operated by British Rail, the former state-owned rail operator. Since privatisation, 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.
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 two summer only passenger ferries that cross the lake. One crosses from Lakeside station to Fell Foot Park at the southern end of the lake, whilst the other links Bowness with Far Sawrey.
There are three large boating clubs based around the lake: the Windermere Motor Boat Racing Club, the Royal Windermere Yacht Club, and the Windermere Cruising Association. The Royal Windermere Yacht Club maintains a set of turning marks on the lake, which are also used by the Windermere Cruising Association. The Windermere Cruising Association organises the popular Winter Series. This event benefits from not being hindered by the large waves, caused by gales, that often lead to sea racing being 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 kilometres per hour (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.
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 bylaw setting a 10 knots (12 mph; 19 km/h) speed limit for all powered craft on the lake, in addition to three existing 6-mile-per-hour (5.2 kn)] speed limits for all craft on the upper, lower, and middle sections of the lake. While the bylaw 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 people continue to use power-boats on the lake, both legally and illegally.