Guide to Moving a Saltwater Aquarium

How to properly move a saltwater aquarium

  1. ryanr
    Author: @ryanr

    Moving a Saltwater tank
    Hi everyone, the below was spawned from a recent discussion regarding moving (or acquiring) a saltwater tank that is already setup.

    Feel free to comment, and leave your own thoughts.

    First things first - PLAN AHEAD (PREPARATION = SECRET OF SUCCESS)
    Have you considered where the new aquarium is going?
    Have you cleared the area where the tank will go? (and furniture to allow moving the tank in)
    Do you have enough power points available? (or power boards) - Think about Protein Skimmer, Return Pump, Lights, Powerheads, Reactors, Heaters etc
    Do you have pre-mixed saltwater (same salinity as the current setup) to add in at the end?
    Plan to have extra people around when you get home to help move and setup

    Get some supplies
    For this, it's time for a trip to the LFS or pet store.

    - Buy a heap of fish bags, big and small. The bags will be used to move the fish and corals.
    - Ask if they have polystyrene boxes, they should, as that's how stock is typically shipped to them - get quite a few boxes if possible. These will be used to keep the fish insulated during transport, and to transport the live rock.
    - Try and get some polystyrene sheets (1/4" thick) to place under the tank in transit.

    Miscellaneous items
    - You'll also want to have garbage bags, or plastic or lots of newspaper to wrap the live rock in and line the boxes.
    - Last but not least, you'll want to have some potable water containers to try and retatin some of the existing water.
    - Teflon (plumber's) tape

    Planning the move

    If you like the way it's setup at the moment, take lots of photos so you can try and replicate the setup when you get home.
    If the setup is second hand, I also recommend taking lots of photos of everything, so you know how equipment was setup ;)
    If the sump has markings already, great, if not, mark the current water level. If it's a second hand tank, ask the owner if they know the 'max' level of the sump.
    Label all the plumbing before you remove it (e.g. return line, overflow etc)

    Time to Start
    Remove the Corals
    Next - Where possible, bag up the corals in individual bags with lots of water. Try and separate corals so that they can't sting each other during transport. Pack in the polystyrene box(es).

    Remove the Live Rock
    It's much easier to net fish when they don't have rock to hide in :)
    Depending on how long the LR will be out of water, it should be fine as long as it stays wet/moist - which in a box, it should. It's actually how most LR is shipped. Most critters will survive, as will the bacteria in the rock.
    Your options are:
    - Line one of the boxes with old newspaper and start removing the live rock into the box. Use multiple boxes if necessary.

    - Or you could line the box with decent thickness plastic (or use a couple of garbage bags inside each other), place the rock in the bag, and fill with tank water. Not a bad idea as it gives you the ability to bring more of the existing water with you. It will add weight to the box, and you'd need to make sure you sealed the box well so as no water spills out during transport.

    - I have also seen people take the newspaper, wrap the rock in the newspaper, and dip into water. This creates a nice wet 'blanket' to wrap it in. My LFS does this when shipping delicate hard corals.

    The reason for lining the box is to stop any of the polystyrene leaching onto the rock. As the rocks move in transit, they rub against the box, and it (polystyrene) transfers onto the rock.

    Remove the fish
    Next - Bag up the fish in appropriate sized bags of course. Pack them in the polystyrene box. Ensure to have plenty of water and plenty of air in the bags.
    If you've got excess space in the boxes, use old towels to stabilise the bags so they don't rock around in transit.

    Last bit, drain the tank (and sump)
    Next - drain the existing tank water, try and capture as much as possible to re-use when you get home. Drain all but the last inch of water. No need to get the substrate out.

    Prepare your car for transport
    Layout some polystyrene in your car, then Carefully, with two, three or four people lift the tank (with inch of water and substrate) into the car onto the polystyrene sheet. It will be heavy! Same goes for the sump.
    Most of all - plan, plan, plan your method of attack, and how you'll get the tank in.

    Drive really carefully!

    When you get home
    - Setup the base and sump. Remember to leave enough room to get to plumbing.
    - Put the tank on the stand.
    - Gently put whatever water you can back into the tank, no more than 3/4 full though to allow space for the live rock.
    - Put the heaters in the tank (don't worry about finalising the plumbing yet) - you want to get the tank back up to temperature.
    - Put the powerheads in for some circulation.
    - Start putting the live rock back in (keep an eye on water level to make sure nothing spills out)

    Releasing the fish
    Release fish into tank (assuming you have enough water) - you won't need to acclimate as everything should be pretty close, to reduce stress, lower each bag into the tank water, and gently rotate the bag and let the bag water enter the tank and the fish swim out. Unlike 'store bought', where we want to reduce the amount of 'foreign' water, your water in the bag will be untainted.

    - Place corals

    Re-Plumbing
    - Check the condition of all o-rings/seals/rubber washers/clamps etc. You may need a quick trip to the local hardware if anything looks damaged/squashed/ruined. Especially if the tank is second hand.

    - If all is fine, finalise plumbing (refer previous photos if you have to).

    With plumbing, you may need to leave it loose to get everything in position. When it's all in position, tighten it all up. For threaded connections (unions), use some plumber's (teflon) tape to help seal the thread.

    - Double check all plumbing is tight - hose clamps, bulkheads, pvc unions and ball joints, pump outlets and inlets. Even if you didn't undo it to move, double check it!

    * Hose clamps need to be tight, but not so much that they eat into/squash the tubing. Too much pressure on the clamp, and it'll break. The idea is that the clamp keeps the tube from moving off the barbs.
    * Unions and PVC fittings typically have an o-ring/rubber washer to seal the join. They only need to be done up 1/4 turn past hand tight. Do it up by hand, you'll feel it start to 'grab' on the rubber. Then, use multi-grips to gently rotate a quarter turn more. You'll hear it 'grabbing' on the washer



    - Top up water so everything is full and water level in sump is where you marked.

    - Start the equipment EXCEPT the lights. With a torch, check for leaks in the plumbing - address as required. I recommend starting one pump at a time, check for leaks, and move on to the next piece. That way, if you missed anything, you won't have everything spraying water all over the place ;)

    - Dose the tank with Prime - it will help with stress and ammonia if any is present.

    I recommend letting the tank run for 12 hours or so before turning the lights on, this will help reduce the stress on fish and corals,

    For the first week, test the water daily - watch for ammonia spikes! Dose with Prime if necessary.

    Enjoy your new tank....

    A Final Word
    Enjoy the experience. Don't rush anything, be gentle, there's no real hurry. Fish and corals are shipped for hours (8+) across countries. Most of all, give yourself plenty of time, don't under-estimate how long the process will take. I would allow a full day, and maybe part of the evening.


    Legal: (Sorry, but this is required) This guide is meant as exactly that, a guide. No guarantees, express or assumed, are implied by the writer or Fishlore.com. Any loss of livestock (includes fish, coral, inverts, hitchhikers, existing inhabitants, bacteria etc) as a result of these methods is considered an unfortunate and assumed risk of moving a fish tank, aquarium, or other accepted term for the housing of fish in captivity.
    Those choosing to follow this guide acknowledge that the advice given is a guide, and total and all responsibility for the safety of the move, including fish, coral, inverts, hitchhikers, existing inabitants, bacteria, aquarium, stand, lights or any other piece of equipment associated with keeping a saltwater aquarium (eg. Protein Skimmer) is theirs and theirs alone.
    The below guide is meant to help 'paint a picture' of how to approach moving a Saltwater Reef Tank. It is not a definitive guide to success.
    Disclosure: I have never moved a SW tank, let alone a Reef tank. However, I have planned having to move my own tank, and this is my approach. The below is my approach, it is NOT PROVEN, but meant as a guide to those thinking of moving a Reef tank.
    Disclaimer: Fishlore.com, its moderators and all members, associates, affiliates, and otherwise known attributaries are not responsible for the success or non-success of the methods proposed above.
    AquaticReef likes this.

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  1. AquaticReef
    AquaticReef
    5/5,
    Could not of said it better very excellent advice for anyone moving or planing on moving/transporting an aquarium/fish tank!!! I give it a 5 star and two thumbs up