Saltwater Tank Setup Checklist (14 Things You Need)

In order to set up a new saltwater tank, it’s important to have a plan ahead of time detailing the items you will need. A checklist is a great way to remember these items. There is nothing more frustrating when setting up a new aquarium and realizing that you forgot something that prevents you from finishing the job.

Following a checklist will keep you organized, prevent things from being missed, and ensures your new set up goes smoothly without any issues or concerns.

Here is a saltwater tank setup checklist that you can follow. Not all of these items are necessary at the very beginning of the setup but are important to have none the less.


1. Choose the right size aquarium and stand.



Of course, when planning to set up a new aquarium, you need to decide what size of tank you want. What are your goals with the tank? Don’t assume that a small tank will be easier due to the size, that’s not really the case. You want to invest in the properly sized tank that will suit the environment you want to build within it.  Other things to consider include space in your home, livestock, price, and equipment that you plan to use.

2. Filtration


Do you plan to use a sump? If so you will need the sump tank itself, plumbing, return pump, skimmer, light for a refugium. Other options are using a hang on filter, internal filter, or perhaps you plan on using just live rock for filtration. It’s smart to plan out your filtration ahead of time.

3. Heater


You will need to consider your tank size and match it with the properly sized heater. You may need more than 1 heater depending on the size. Heaters are an essential piece of equipment that you should keep a spare in case of malfunction. A heater controller is an affordable and reliable way to help prevent heater malfunctions.


Marine Depot Aquarium Supplies

4. Lighting


Planning the type of lighting for your tank will be mainly based on if you decide to keep corals. Specific lighting is not required for a fish only saltwater tank but is something to plan out ahead of time as it can be a costly purchase. You don’t want to buy the wrong lighting that is not suitable for the corals you plan to have. Look into your options with LED lighting, and T5 Lighting being the most common choices.

5. Wavemakers


Proper water flow is crucial for saltwater tanks to thrive. Factors to consider are tank size, the flow rate of the pumps, coral and fish types, placement, DC pumps, constant flow vs variable wavemakers. There are so many options available on the market today. The nice thing with having a large variety to choose from is that you will find a great quality wavemaker for a good price.

6. Auto top off (ATO)


Although these are not a required item, they sure are convenient and help maintain water stability. It’s a great item to add to the list as they are easy to integrate into your system on setup. Most people will use an auto top off with a sump system, but you can still use them without a sump. Read more about ATO systems here.

7. Rocks

Live rocks will be the main source of filtration for your tank. Natural biological filtration from the rocks will occur, which is important for the overall health of the tank. Consider how many pounds of rock you will need for your tank size. A general rule of thumb is 1 pound of rock per 1 gallon tank size. This can vary but it’s a good number to start with. There are advantages to using dry rock as well when starting a new tank. For one, dry rock is much cheaper than live rock, and you won’t have to worry about introducing pests that might come attached to the rock from another tank. If you have the chance to start your tank with live rock that is pest-free and high quality, this will help your cycle time but expect to pay double the price for it. Perhaps even more.

8. Substrate


Prior to setting up a new tank, you will want to add the substrate before it’s filled with water. Consider what type of substrate you want. Is it looks you are aiming for? If so, then many people prefer the look of a fine sand-like Caribsea Fiji Pink. Crushed coral is another option that will have more shell-like and small rock pieces, or do you prefer a bare bottom tank? How much water movement you plan to have in the tank will play a factor in the type of substrate you use. Sand is more prone to blow around the tank in higher flow rates, so if you are keeping certain fish and corals like SPS, you may not want to use sand.

9. RODI water filter


To have a better chance of success with your saltwater tank, it’s important to use RODI water. Tap water is not healthy for your tank, you should plan to use reverse osmosis water. You can buy this water from an aquarium store and other retailers, or you can make it yourself at home with a Reverse osmosis water filter.

10. Water testing kits


If you are setting up a new aquarium, it will be important to check the water parameters as it will naturally go through a cycle. Things like Nitrite, Nitrate, Ammonia, PH, temperature are all things to test for. As your tank matures you will need to test for other things like Phosphate, Calcium, Magnesium. Plan ahead before setting up the tank to have a reliable water testing kit so you can detect any problems that need to be addressed.

11. Refractometer



Of course with setting up a saltwater aquarium, it’s important to know the salinity and salt level of the water you are using. A refractometer is an accurate way to test that and they are very affordable.

12. Quarantine tank


You may not need this right away, but it’s good to plan for it from the start as you can have it running and ready for when you add livestock. Read more on using quarantine tanks here.

13. Fish food


Don’t forget that once your tank has finished the cycle, you might want to start adding fish. Remember to put fish food on your checklist.

14. Power adapters, surge protectors


Plan to have the aquarium in a place where you can easily access power. Ensure you use a proper surge protector as you will have many pieces of equipment to plug in. You will also need to create a drip loop and have space to organize cords and cables.




Once your tank is set up and running, you will most likely find other things that you need or want. When just starting out, make sure you incorporate a checklist with the most important things and pick up other things as you go along. Hopefully, these 14 items make it onto your list and help you organize and keep track of the necessary things you need for your new saltwater tank.


Thanks for reading!