Aquarium Wavemaker Placement For Saltwater Tanks

Water circulation in a saltwater tank is one of the most important aspects you need to address when setting up a new or existing tank.

It can be a struggle to find the right location to mount your wavemakers. Ensuring that your corals, fish, rocks, all receive the right amount of flow is crucial to their health. 

In this article, I will address the proper positioning of wavemakers in your saltwater tank and the many benefits of doing so. 

Why does a saltwater tank need wavemakers?

Without wavemakers or powerheads, a saltwater tank won’t receive the proper amount of water flow and unique flow patterns it requires to stay healthy.

Benefits of a wavemaker include:

  • Gas exchange
  • Supply food to corals
  • Directing waste to the filtration
  • Maintain the biological balance

These are just a few of the benefits. The placement of wavemakers in your tank is a big part of providing these needs. 

Water flow promotes gas exchange which increases oxygen and decreases carbon dioxide. Corals need water flow to keep their tissues healthy and maintain their colors. Corals also depend on water flow to bring them food such as phytoplankton and zooplankton. Water flow will also remove waste from around the coral tissues.

Why is the placement of wavemakers important?

There are a few reasons. Take the following into consideration:

  • Types of corals in the tank
  • Type of substrate being used
  • Types of fish and invertebrates

Proper positioning of the wavemakers will make their benefits more effective. For example, if a wavemaker is placed directly behind a rock, it won’t be as effective in directing waste to your filtration. Placed lower on the glass in the open space would be better. 

If you have lower flow corals in your tank, like LPS, you won’t want to have a wavemaker with strong flow pointed right at it. You could also damage the coral. Positioning the wavemaker high up on the glass aiming away from the coral would be best. 

If you are using very fine sand, it can easily be blown around the tank. Not only can this make a mess, but it can harm corals. Make sure that your wavemakers are not pointed directly at the bottom of the tank where sand will be disturbed and blown around. 

One advantage of keeping a bare bottom tank is you can have stronger flow on the bottom of the tank. This helps keep it clean and directs any detritus to either a specific part of the tank which can be easily removed by you or the filter system.

Certain fish don’t like to be placed in high flow areas of the tank. Strong currents can affect their health. Depending on the types of fish you are keeping, you will need to adjust the water flow rate and wavemaker position. For example, the Copperband Butterfly does not like much water flow but the Clown Tang loves it.

Copperband Butterfly

Proper water movement is crucial for maintaining the biological balance of the tank. The live rock contains beneficial bacteria that break down waste and reduces nitrates. Using porous live rock with plenty of flow is essential. Positioning your wavemakers strategically will allow for better flow with live rocks.

Better control of flow and directional patterns are easier when wavemakers are placed strategically in the tank. Use both the side and rear panel glass to make sure the corals get strong but indirect flow. If you have multiple wavemakers, place them at different heights and strengths to have a varied flow.

There are many factors to consider. Not all tanks will be the same. 

SPS corals that are placed higher in the tank for more light, will require stronger water flow. Positioning the wavemakers up high on the glass would provide that. 

Avoid placing the wavemakers in a position where corals with long tentacles can reach out and sting others. Most corals will reach out more in the water current. 

When you are aquascaping the tank, make sure you strategically organize the rocks so water can flow around them properly. Creating a wall of rocks will block the flow and the wavemakers won’t be as effective. 

Avoid placing wavemakers too close to the water surface. Although you can create lots of surface agitation, they can suck air into them. 

Tall corals can accidentally be sucked into the wavemaker or powerhead if too close. Make sure to position them accordingly to avoid this. 

If you want your wavemakers to be somewhat hidden from view, you can put them on the back wall and if it’s painted black, the wavemakers will blend in.  

Can you have too much flow?

Yes, you can definitely have too much flow in your tank. Whether it’s a fish only saltwater tank or a full reef, proper water flow is important. Every tank will be different so the amount of flow will be dependent on your tanks requirements. 

What size wavemaker do I need?

There are a few factors to consider when determining wavemaker size. Types of corals and fish you keep play a role. Turnover rate is a number given to how many times your main water volume will be cycled or turned over in your tank. An average number to aim for is a 20-30x turnover rate. For example, a 100-gallon tank might require a 2000-3000 GPH flow rate. Use this number to determine the proper wavemaker size. 


Once you decide on the right wavemakers for your tank, make sure that you position them in the right place that will be beneficial for your corals and fish. There are many options and it might take a while to get them set up in the right spot. Your corals will let you know if they are not happy.