11 Steps Saltwater Tank Setup for Beginners

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saltwater tank setup
Beautiful saltwater aquarium setup

This guide for anyone interested in learning how to make a reef aquarium. A saltwater tank setup is not always difficult, it just to learn and know what it takes to have a healthy saltwater aquarium. Here we discuss guide to starting a saltwater aquarium.

Step by Step Saltwater Tank Setup for Beginners

1. Planning

The most important step in how to make a saltwater aquarium is planning. It takes a lot of time and money to set up and maintain a marine fish tank. Not planning correctly can sabotage your efforts and cost you a lot more time and money than need be.

During the planning stage, you’re going to want to decide what type of marine aquarium tanks you want. Will it be fish only? Fish and live rock? A reef tank with some fish and corals? Figuring this out is going to set the table for the rest of what you do during the setup process. It is also going to dictate what type of filtration and lighting systems to use in your aquarium.

2. Choose a Fish Tank Size and Finding the Perfect Location

When it comes to saltwater fish tanks, it’s better to go bigger – especially when you’re a beginner. I’d recommend getting the biggest size aquarium you can afford. Besides money, the type of tank and livestock you plan to put in it will have a bearing on the fish tank sizes. If you think to get large angelfish, triggerfish, or sharks, you’re going to need a bigger tank than if you just want some small damselfish or clownfish and live rock, 20 gallon aquarium is perfect for starting your first reef aquarium. For the bigger tank, you can try this beautiful reef tank Red Sea Aquarium Kit.

The location is another important decision on saltwater tank setup for beginners. First, an aquarium filled with water can weigh hundreds of pounds. Once you select a place, it’s not going to be easy to move. So find a spot that can support the weight. Also, take into account easy access to electrical outlets, locations of heating/cooling vents that could affect the temperature of the tank, windows that could cause the tank to get direct sunlight which can cause algae blooms, and closeness to water sources.

3. Purchase Equipment

Need a list of what to get? Check out our recent post the 17 essential aquarium equipment you need for saltwater fish tank setup.

4. Test the Tank

The last thing you need is to fill your tank with salt water and then have it leak all over the floor because of a small crack (I had this happen with a 55-gallon freshwater tank once – it was a mess with freshwater and saltwater would be infinitely worse!). Fill the tank to the top with fresh water and leave it outside or in a bathtub, in the garage or shower for a few days and make sure the water stays on the inside of the tank!

5. Prepare the Tank

Put the tank in its permanent location and make sure it’s level. Next, put all the equipment – sump, heater, filter, powerheads, etc. in place.

6. Fill ‘er Up – Part Way

Once you’ve tested the tank, fill it up by mixing water purified with Reverse Osmosis or RO/Deionization Filter with a salt mix made specifically for a saltwater aquarium. You can either mix this in buckets before putting it in the tank or add the water to the tank first and then add the salt mix to the tanks. Be sure to use a hydrometer to make sure the salinity is at the right level.

7. Add Your Sand/Live Rock/Aquascaping

When your tank is filled between 1/2 to 3/4 of the way up, add saltwater substrate to the tank, whether it’s crushed coral or live sand. Once that’s in, add a live rock or whatever decorations you have for aquascape if you’re not using live rock.

8. Top ‘er Off

Fill the tank the rest of the way.

9. Turn Everything On

Once the water is in, turn on your filter, heaterskimmer, powerheads and any other equipment you have. Let it all run for 72 hours and make sure it’s functioning correctly.

10. Let the Tank Cycle

The cycling process of a new saltwater aquarium can take up to 6 weeks. There are a few ways you can help the process along. One way is to add one hardy fish like a damsel to the tank to get some biological activity going on. Or you can put some frozen fish food in the tank as well (if you have live rock, you don’t need to do this).

There are a few things you’ll want to keep a close eye on as your reef tank corals cycles. First, watch the temperature and salinity levels carefully. Make sure they stay in the acceptable ranges (1.023 to 1.026 for salinity and roughly 75F – 80F for temperature) and that they remain stable. Also, during the cycling process you’ll want to check the water chemistry every 1 – 2 days. Your tank is done cycling once the levels of ammonia and nitrite are at 0.

11. Add Your Salt Water Aquarium Fish/Corals

Finish your saltwater tank setup – Once your tank cycled, it’s ready for the livestock. You may want to add a cleaning crew first (snails, crabs, etc.) and then start adding saltwater fish. Just be sure not to add too much too quickly. It’s better to take it slow and let the filtration build up to be able to handle the new inhabitants in your reef tank adequately.

Also, if you’re planning to add corals and anemones, it’s considered better by many to wait at least a few months and let the tank mature a bit before adding them to the mix.

3 thoughts on “11 Steps Saltwater Tank Setup for Beginners

  1. Hello, my name is George and I have had a fresh water tank for years and it is time to set up a salt water tank. Very nice article, you help me to fine what I need for my setup. But I have a question, do I need a protein skimmer to start or can be added when am ready to ad fish?

  2. My first week cycle in my saltwater aquarium things were great now the second week pH and nitrite starting to change a bit. Is that ok or what should I do??

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