In large or crowded saltwater aquariums, consistent water flow is essential for ensuring all of your tank inhabitants have access to clean water and all of their waste is moved to your filtration. Depending on your tank inhabitants, you may need fast water flow for strong swimmers or low flow for slow-growing corals. Choosing the right powerhead or circulation pump can greatly benefit your tank’s environment and health of your fish and invertebrates.
Our favorite is the Uniclife Aquarium Wave Maker for its multiple customizations and size options. From this product line, you can find the powerhead perfect for your saltwater aquarium of any size and inhabitant combination.
Uniclife Aquarium Wave Maker
Can be used as wave generator or traditional powerhead
Three available sizes
Can take apart for complete cleaning
Magnetic mount can be tricky to adjust
The many customizable options of the Uniclife Aquarium Wave Maker and Submersible Circulation Pump make it a great choice for any saltwater aquarium. This product comes in 3 sizes: 30-60 gallons, 60-100 gallons and 120-300 gallons. Each model can be adapted to making waves at the surface or lower in your tank, or just a standard powerhead flow. The adaptability makes this product a great choice for many tanks and even comes apart easily for quick cleaning.
Price at time of publish: $67 (60-120 gallons)
Flow: 1058 gph, 2100 gph, 3400 gph | Size: 2.4 x 2.4 x 2.4 inches | Tank range: 30-300 gallon models available
Aqueon Circulation Pump
Limited direction change
Suitable for small aquariums only
This line from Aqueon varies from 20 gallons all the way up to 125 gallons for a very reasonable price point. The Aqueon Circulation Pump has a suction cup with a push tab that makes it easy to lock down. The ball and socket joint also makes adjustments to flow direction simple. This is an excellent choice for a simple powerhead in many saltwater aquariums.
Price at time of publish: $20 (950 model)
Flow: 500 gph, 700 gph, 950 gph, 1250 gph | Size: 3.25 x 5.38 x 5.25 inches | Tank range: 20-125 gallons
Best for Large Tanks
Freesea Aquarium Circulation Pump
Double head flow
Two heads cannot be directed individually
Not ideal for delicate fish and corals
With a double head and 1600 gph, the Freesea Aquarium Circulation Pump is a great choice for a large system or fish that like fast-moving water. This unit used a magnetic mount and 8 watts of energy to create a highly dynamic environment in your saltwater aquarium.
Price at time of publish: $29 (1600 gph model)
Flow: 1050 gph, 1600 gph | Size: 6.3 x 4.9 x 4.4 inches | Tank range: 75-125 gallons
Best for Small Tanks
Fluval Sea CP2 Circulation Pump
Made specifically for small tanks
No flow adjustment
Not ideal for larger tanks
For small tanks and gentle currents, the Fluval Sea Circulation Pump is your best bet. This pump comes in a range of sizes all the way down to 15 gallons. This pump is a great choice for delicate corals that just require a tiny bit of flow.
Price at time of publish: $27 (CP2)
Flow: 425 gph (CP2) | Size: 3.5 x 2.4 x 2.4 inches | Tank range: 15-25 gallons
Hydor Koralia Evolution Aquarium Circulation Pump
Variety of sizes
Simple to install and use
Good flow for size
Easy to position and direct
Wave controller sold separately
Larger sizes can be bulky
Submersible powerheads work best when they have some flexibility in flow and positioning. The Hydor Koralia series is a simple set up with a strong suction mount on a ball-in-socket joint, allowing for full rotation once secured. Sizes vary from 600 gph up to 1500 gph, so there is a model that will fit your tank well, depending on its size, shape and inhabitants.
Price at time of publish: $40 (750-850 gph model)
Flow: 550-1500 gph | Power consumption: 5 watts | Size: 6 x 3 x 3 inches | Tank range: 40-175 gallons
Jebao SCP-150 Sine Cross Flow Pump
Multiple modes and flow settings
Allows for customization
Works for large systems
May need multiple for larger or wider systems
Not all tank inhabitants like wave action
Looking to make some waves? The Jebao Pump Wave Maker can be customized to many size tanks, but is recommended for larger tanks since it can make waves up to 6 feet away from its base. Dynamic waves can be of great benefit to many fish and invertebrate species, but it may take time for them to get used to all the commotion.
Price at time of publish: $137
Flow: up to 6000-7500 gph crossflow | Size: 13 x 3 x 1.6 inches | Tank range: up to 6 feet in length
Our overall pick for powerheads for saltwater aquariums is the Uniclife Aquarium Adjustable Wave Maker and Submersible Circulation Pump. It comes in multiple sizes and can play both as a normal powerhead and wave generator, making it a good choice for most saltwater setups. If you’re not sure what exactly you need, this pump allows you to play around with the settings in order to customize what works best in your tank.
If you are looking for a more straightforward powerhead, check out the Hydor Koralia Evolution Circulation & Wave Pump series instead. These pumps come in a variety of sizes for various saltwater tank setups, and you can always add on a wave controller later.
What to Look for in an Aquarium Powerheads
Flow rates for all pumps are given in gallons per hour (gph). Many powerheads are rated for certain sizes of aquariums, but your setup may not fit the general guidelines. Some powerheads come with adjustable flow, so if you are unsure about your desired flow rate, an adjustable model would be a smart choice. Flow requirements will also depend on the other filtration elements in place and how strong their intakes and returns are.
As per our recommendations for flow rate above, just because your pump is marketed towards a particular tank size, your individual tank may not confirm to those guidelines. Extra long tanks will require additional flow compared to a deep, short tank.
Consult all manufacturer’s directions for proper installation. Your powerhead should be installed at the opposite end of your aquarium from your filter output. Direct the flow along the diagonal axis of your tank and away from any walls.
Considerations for Corals
All corals benefit from a current to allow them to forage from the water column. Some corals like a heavy flow, while others cannot stand anything but a low flow. There is a tendency to really crank up the flow with corals, especially for beginners, but often, a slow flow is better. An adjustable model will allow you to start slow and then slowly turn up the flow until your corals are content.
Do I need a powerhead in my aquarium?
Not all aquariums will require a powerhead. Small tanks without lots of décor can get away without one. A simple test is to take a small leaf from a synthetic aquarium plant and allow it to circulate around your aquarium. Are there any areas it cannot reach? If yes, you should add a pump in the area that it gets stuck to prevent dead spots and promote full tank circulation.
Saltwater tanks with delicate corals may not benefit from fast moving water. You may need a very small powerhead to circulate but not disturb your corals. The outflow from your filter may be sufficient without an additional powerhead, but will depend on your filter and décor placement.
Where do I place powerheads in my aquarium?
The best place to start with a powerhead is at the opposite end of your tank from your filter return. This is commonly the area of lowest flow. If your filter return is on the top of the water column, place a powerhead lower and vice versa. Try to direct the flow along the diagonal axis of your tank and not against any sides.
How is aquarium powerhead flow measured?
Like most other aquarium pumps, flow for powerheads is measured in gallons per hour or gph. This is a measurement of how many gallons of water can be moved by a pump over an hour. Circulation pumps and powerheads may vary slightly in gph and be suitable for many sizes of aquarium. If you are unsure what gph you need, it is recommended that you select a powerhead that has an adjustable flow setting.
What’s the difference between a powerhead and a wavemaker?
Powerheads are pumps that push water around. Wave makers will also push water, but in an oscillating pattern. Some powerheads and wave makers can be combined into one product.
Do powerheads provide oxygen?
Submerged powerheads to not add any additional aeration unless they have an air intake. Powerheads that are placed to disturb surface water or above water will add in additional oxygen through agitation of the water at the air-water interface along the surface of your tank.
Why Trust The Spruce?
As an all-aquatic veterinary practitioner, I have seen thousands of private tank setups and have personal experience with most of the equipment. Powerheads are an essential component to larger fish systems in order to provide a clean and healthy environment. Water quality is essential to fish health and discussed with every single one of my clients.