Checklist for Starting a Saltwater Aquarium at Home

Checklist for Starting a Saltwater Aquarium at Home

Illustration: The Spruce / Maritsa Patrinos

The items listed here are pieces of equipment and components that are fundamental for setting up and running a saltwater aquarium or reef tank system.

  1. Aquarium/Tank
    You need to decide where you want to put your aquarium, determine what size you want or may only have room for, whether you want an acrylic or glass tank, and choose a style that will best fit into the spot you have picked out to display it.
  2. Lighting
    The type of lighting you choose will be based on the type of system you have planned to set up, as well as what kind of livestock you will be keeping in it.
  3. Skimmers, Filters & Filtration Equipment
    Once again, what type of system you are going to set up will help you determine which kind of filters and filtration system to choose.
  4. Powerhead
    Depending on the size of your aquarium, the use of one or several powerheads is an excellent way to provide good water circulation throughout the system.
  5. Live Rock & Substrate
    Here you need to decide on what type of material you want on the bottom of the tank, as well as whether you want to start with a live or non-living medium. Live Rock plays an important role in a marine tank. Many marine animals, fish in particular, can be quite territorial. It is important to provide ample shelter or places where the animals can hide, sleep, and avoid potential problems with aggression from other tankmates in the confined space of an aquarium.
  6. Sea Salt Mix/Saltwater & Hydrometer
    Sea salts are what make an aquarium a saltwater or marine aquarium. Also referred to as a salinity tester, this item measures the specific gravity or salt content of the water.
  7. Heater & Thermometer
    For smaller aquariums one heater works well, but for larger systems the use of multiple units is advised. With stick-on, floating, multi-function remote digital sensor, and many other types of units to pick from, the material a thermometer is made of is an important factor when choosing one as well.
  8. Air Pump & Air Stones
    Only needed if you are going to run a piece of equipment that requires these items, such as a counter-current protein skimmer.
  9. Test Kits, Additives & Supplements
    For live rock and reef tank systems, calcium (a.k.a. limewater/kalkwasser) needs to be added. Other supplemental vitamins or additives that are beneficial to the health of certain marine inhabitants you may be keeping, such a iodine for crustaceans, are important as well.
  10. Maintenance Tools & Supplies
    This category includes having items on hand such as a various sized plastic buckets or containers, tank cleaning tools such as a siphon tube/hose, an algae scaper or magnet, as well as nets of different sizes, spare equipment replacements parts, and so on. A good way to keep track of what maintenance tasks you have preformed and when is to keep a log book or record of everything you do.
  • 01 of 10

    Aquarium/Tank & Stands

    Checklist for Starting a Saltwater Aquarium at Home
    Micro-Nano Aquariums Montage Photos by PriceGrabber

    Aquarium/Tank

    Once you have decided where you are going to place your new aquarium, you will need to choose a tank that will fit the available space. Fortunately, there will probably be a number of different tank sizes and styles that will work for you.

    While you are shopping for your new tank, keep an eye on what equipment (filtration, lighting, etc.) is included. Buying an aquarium package or "kit" can save you a lot of time and money as everything included is designed to fit the tank. For smaller spaces, the Plug n' Play Mini/Nano Aquarium Kits are a quick way to get almost everything you will need to get started. For larger spaces, a 1-50 gallon aquarium might work for you. If you have the space and desire, one of the Showsize Display Aquariums might be just the ticket.

    For those who want to design your own tank and save money at the same time, you might want to explore the DIY Aquariums route. Building your own aquarium is remarkably easy to do.

    While you are shopping for your new aquarium, keep in mind that you will need something to put it on/in. Many of the packages include an aquarium stand, if not, there are a number of manufactured Aquarium Stands and Cabinets to choose from.

  • 02 of 10

    Aquarium Lighting

    Checklist for Starting a Saltwater Aquarium at Home
    LED Light Fixtures

    The type of lighting you choose will be based on the type of system you have planned to set up, as well as what kind of livestock you will be keeping in it. If you are not purchasing an aquarium kit or package you will have to select your tank lighting.

    Fish-Only Tank Lighting is less expensive while Reef Tank Lighting and Coral Lighting are a bit more involved and pricey. While shopping for lighting, keep in mind that you may want to upgrade your tank from a Fish Only to a reef tank in the future. Buying fixtures which can be retrofitted with more powerful bulbs in the future might be a better buy in the long run.

    If you are interested in a long (and even short) term money saver, look into the LED Light Fixtures. These sleek, compact and efficient fixtures are now available with reef grade bulbs. You will also find that using a Power Center to control your lights and other electrical equipment will greatly simplify running your new aquarium.

  • 03 of 10

    Protein Skimmers, Filters & Filtration Equipment

    Checklist for Starting a Saltwater Aquarium at Home
    Canister Filter Montage Photos by PriceGrabber

    Filters & Filtration Equipment

    If you have not purchased an aquarium kit (package), the type of system you are going to set up will help you determine which kind of filters and filtration system to choose.

    • Choosing a Filtration System is the next step in putting your new aquarium together.
    • Canister Filters can be used with almost any type of system.
    • Wet/Dry Trickle Filters have the advantage of being modified to meet almost any demand.
    • Power Filters are usually hung on the tank are easy to use.

    Protein Skimmer

    Protein skimmers remove Dissolved Organic Compounds (DOC's) directly from the aquarium system water, before they are processed by the biological filter. While not essential to an aquarium filtration system, many people find that skimmers do take a lot of the load from the biological filter, allowing a larger fish and invertebrate population in the tank. What protein skimming is, and how it works will help you understand their function.

    • Before purchasing a protein skimmer, you will need to determine where it will be placed in your system.
  • 04 of 10

    Powerheads

    Checklist for Starting a Saltwater Aquarium at Home
    Top Powerheads

    Depending on the size of your aquarium, the use one or several powerheads is an excellent way to provide good water circulation throughout the system.

    Continue to 5 of 10 below.
  • 05 of 10

    Substrate & Live Rock

    Checklist for Starting a Saltwater Aquarium at Home
    Top Marine Aquarium Substrates

    Substrate

    Since the substrate is more than just the "stuff at the bottom of the tank", Choosing the right substrate for your aquarium is important. There are a number of different colors, types, densities and sizes of materials used for aquarium substrates. If you will be having a lot of water current in your tank, you will want a heavier substrate to keep it in place. If your substrate will be a significant part of the biological filter, porosity and surface area will be important.

    If you choose to use a Jaubert/Plenum Filter, you will want to use a Live Sand that is suitable for a Deep Sand Bed.

    Live Rock

    Live Rock plays an important role in a marine tank. Many marine animals, fish in particular, can be quite territorial. It is important to provide ample shelter or places where the animals can hide, sleep, and avoid potential problems with aggression from other ​tankmates in the confined space of an aquarium.

  • 06 of 10

    Sea Salt Mix/Saltwater & Hydrometer

    Checklist for Starting a Saltwater Aquarium at Home
    Top Sea Salts

    Sea Salt Mix/Saltwater & Hydrometer

    Sea salts are what make an aquarium a saltwater or marine aquarium. Also referred to as a salinity tester, this item measures the specific gravity or salt content of the water.

    Hydrometer

    Also referred to as a salinity tester, this item measures the specific gravity or salt content of the water.

  • 07 of 10

    Heater & Thermometer

    Checklist for Starting a Saltwater Aquarium at Home
    Saltwater Aquarium Heaters

    Heater & Thermometer

    For smaller aquariums, one heater works well, but for larger systems, the use of multiple units is advised. With stick-on, floating, multi-function remote digital sensor and many other types of units to pick from, the material a thermometer is made of is an important factor when choosing one as well.

    Heater

    For smaller aquariums, one heater works well, but for larger systems, the use of multiple units is advised.

    Thermometer

    With stick-on, floating, multi-function remote digital sensor, and many other types of units to pick from, the material a thermometer is made of is an important factor when choosing one as well.

  • 08 of 10

    Test Kits, Additives & Supplements

    Checklist for Starting a Saltwater Aquarium at Home
    Top Saltwater Aquarium Test Kits

    Test Kits, Additives & Supplements

    For live rock and reef tank systems, calcium (a.k.a. limewater/kalkwasser) needs to be added. Other supplemental vitamins or additives that are beneficial to the health of certain marine inhabitants you may be keeping, such as iodine for crustaceans, are important as well.

    Additives & Supplements

    For live rock and reef tank systems, calcium (a.k.a. limewater/kalkwasser) needs to be added. Other supplemental vitamins or additives that are beneficial to the health of certain marine inhabitants you may be keeping, such a iodine for crustaceans, are important as well.

    Continue to 9 of 10 below.
  • 09 of 10

    Air Pump & Air Stones

    Checklist for Starting a Saltwater Aquarium at Home
    Air Pump Montage

    Since air bubbles in saltwater aquariums will cause salt creep, air pumps and air stones are normally only needed if you are going to run a piece of equipment that requires these items, such as a counter-current protein skimmer.

  • 10 of 10

    Maintenance Tools & Supplies

    Maintenance Tools & Supplies

    This category includes having items on hand such as a various sized plastic buckets or containers, tank cleaning tools such as a siphon tube/hose, an algae scraper or magnet, as well as nets of different sizes, spare equipment replacements parts, and so on. A good way to keep track of what maintenance tasks you have preformed and when is to keep a log book or record of everything you do.

Watch Now: How to Set Up a Saltwater Fish Tank