PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) – Nearly two years after an 11-year-old Portland girl drowned when she was swept away near Haystack Rock, her mom is now honoring her memory through water safety.

As temps warm up, more people are eager to get out on the water or take a trip to the coast, but Nicole Markwell’s goal is keep those visitors safe by teaching water safety.

On June 17, 2021, the day started off normally for the Markwell family.

“We went to the coast, just a family day trip like a lot of Portlanders do,” said Markwell.

They decided on an afternoon at Cannon Beach, exploring the tide pools near Haystack Rock. Lily Markwell was about knee-deep in the water with her brother during low-tide, when a rip current pulled her out to sea. Despite efforts after she was rescued, she died the next day.

In the time since, her mom has learned everything she can about water safety.

“They were right by Haystack Rock. There’s a permanent rip current there. I didn’t even know what a rip current was, let alone that there was a permanent one there. The rips are going to pull you out and if you don’t know what to do, you’re going to fight it because that’s your instinct and you’re going to tire out and you’re going to drown,” said Markwell. “If she would have been, you know, moved over like 15 feet, she’d probably still be here.”

As she works to honor Lily’s life, she also wants to make sure other families don’t experience this same tragedy, bringing drowning prevention lessons to parents and kids — from classrooms to PTA meetings, scout troops and more. That way, if they’re away from their parents like Lily was, they still know what to do.

“We need to kind of ingrain it, you know, so that if they’re in a situation where they’re, the water is above their head or they’re scared, that they know how to float on their backs and that they know that that’s their instinct,” she said. “My go-to phrase is flip, float, follow, so you flip on your back and float, and then you follow the current until you can either be rescued or figure out how to get yourself out.”

Markwell says that beyond the coast, with Oregon’s abundance of lakes and rivers, everyone should know how to be safe when out on the water because conditions can change in an instant.

“Drowning is preventable,” she said. “If we know what to do to prevent it, we can save so many lives.”

The Markwells have set up a website, www.lilyslight.org, to share Lily’s story and safety tips. If you’re interested in signing up for a presentation for your class or organization, you can contact them at LilyPearlDrowningPrevention@gmail.com.

According to the LilysLight website:

“There was so much we didn’t know about being safe in and around the ocean. As I have talked to others in Portland I have learned that we are not alone in our lack of knowledge; many people have no idea how to be safe in the ocean/open water. Drowning is preventable. With education, we could end all accidental drownings.”