Moving Reef Tanks
October 18, 1998 on #reefs
James Wiseman gives an impromptu talk on moving reef tanks....
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I have not had too much time to prepare, but I do have a fair
amount of experience moving tanks, so this should prove to be an interesting
I plan on speaking about moving a reeftank, but there are lots of different scenarios
to cover. How big of a tank, you ask? I would first like to cover moving a fairly large
tank across town, and then talk a little about moving cross-country w/ a reef...
Moving in-town is probably something that a lot of you have done, so I hope that we can
have a discussion after the talk, to share tips and tricks. I think that this will benefit
Moving a reeftank across town...
First, what will you need to do this successfully?
(things I think are essential)
Rubbermaid tubs (38g) WITH LIDS!
Don't forget to get the ones w/ snap on lids.
Figure that for a 75G tank, you will need about 3 or 4 tubs to do it right.
Utility pump...I use a Rio 2500 w/ about 10 feet of hose.
A little piece of hose on the inlet also comes in handy.
Trash can...yes, the ubiquitous trashcan for mixing up water...
Something you may want to have if you can afford it is a canister filter for carbon
and/or filter floss. This is good for clearing up water that is fouled by stirring up
Vehicle: If you have a big tank, you're going to have to have a pickup truck.
A sport utility works ok, but just isn't big enough inside, so you have to do multiple
trips. People! The most important item! For moving acrylic tanks...you need very few
people, for glass,you need about 2X as many. Figure for a 60 or 75 G glass tank, you will
need 2 people to lift the tank. You will also need some miscellaneous stuff, like a scoop,
a net, etc. But we've covered the basics. Of course, keep plenty of salt mix ready. On to
moving the tank, the exciting part.
We'll start from scratch here, as in, look at the pretty tank...do I really have to do
this? Yes! Moving a tank isn't the end of the world, it can be done w/o any losses, IF
PLANNED. Tank moves generally take a day, so leave that much time open. You will probably
end up staying up late anyhow though.....
If you're moving in town, then have the new tank area ready. Make sure you have
adequate wall outlets nearby, and that you are reasonably confident in the floor...:) I'm
a structural engineer, and trust me on this one, almost every floor is up to the task.
Start by draining the tank water into one of the tubs, maybe until the corals are just
exposed. Make sure not to overfill the Rubbermaid tubs...about 1/2 way full at the most,
cause they will slosh in the truck. Take out the corals one by one... Some corals may be
glued in w/ epoxy...but it is actually possible to remove them. If you can see some of the
epoxy under the coral, slip a screwdriver under the epoxy, and it will pop off!
When you go to put the corals in your tub, here's a tip. Put each coral in an OPEN
sandwich bag...like the flimsy bags that do not close. This way, they won't sting each
other in the tub, and you can fit them closer together. Put all the corals in the tub or
Oh, an item I forgot... SMALL POWERHEADS - I use tiny powerheads for a little
circulation in the tubs. That way I don't have to hurry, and I don't make mistakes. If
it's cold, a small heater or two will come in very handy. There will be some corals that
you just can't get off of the rock. That's life! Those green star polyps will probably be
just fine...don't worry. If you make the move w/in one day, most corals can survive out of
Remove all the live rock to another tub. Try to take the top rock off and lay it on the
sand. That way you can get to the base rock. You'll want to take the base rock out and put
it in the tubs first. Make sure you put some water in w/ the rock, but also make sure you
and your pal can still lift the tub! Put the nice rock on top of the base rock in the
tub(s) then cover it w/ a moist towel, or newspaper. Once you have removed all the rock,
you should be able to catch your fish. Wait a second, where'd your 6-line wrasse go? You
guessed it, he's in the rock! Wrasses love to do that...they also will bury themselves in
the sand sometimes too... hence, the water in the LR tub...:-) OK, so now you have to
catch the fish.
Start by removing all the powerheads and misc. hardware. Be extra careful that you TURN
THE HEATER OFF before you bring the water level down...I'm sure that more than one
person has cracked a heater by letting it overheat...;-) w/ all the hardware removed
you should be able to catch the fish. Put them in their own separate tub too... that
brings us up to 3 tubs if you do not have a lot of live rock, maybe 4 tubs if you
do. Plus, you still have your precious live sand to remove.
Drain down your water into the tub w/ the fish in it. I haven't said anything about the
water yet, but you want to keep as much as possible. If you save 60% of it, you are
sitting pretty...basically your tank is going to get a 40% water change, but it
probably can handle that. When the tank is drained down to the sand, get your scoop ready.
You want to mix the sand up as little as possible, so take big scoops and set them
in the last tub...don't just dump them in. The fauna that live in live sand are very
delicate, and are easily injured and killed. Some are going to die, but don't make it any
harder on them than you need to... scoop out all of the sand, and put it in the tub. For a
short move, it is OK to submerge the sand, but for long distance runs, it is actually
better just to keep it damp. (As per Ron. S)
You have done all of the delicate work now...time for heavy lifting. You'll want to
have some moving blankets handy, they are REALLY cheap to rent. (that's another item I
omitted above) If you have an acrylic tank, this counts double, as boy do they scratch
easily. Try and make a run over to the new place with all of the dry stuff. Just drop it
off on the curb and have your trusty tank movers haul it inside. (The promise of a 12-pack
afterwards works wonders here) :-) If your helpers are really cool, they may even put the
tank on the stand for you before you return. (more expensive bribes may be necessary for
this) Make a run back for the tubs/livestock.
Your tubs have lids, but remember, don't close the lids until you absolutely have to!
If it's a long move, like 2-3 hours, you may want to drill some vent holes in the center
of the lid for oxygen exchange. Turn off the powerheads and bring everything out to
the car. Important tip:!!!! Put the tubs toward the FRONT of the truck. That way when you
stop, you don't have a disaster. Few trucks accelerate faster than they brake. Especially
Put the sand back into the tank carefully, and cover it with a piece of saran wrap, or
a large plate/platter. This way, it won't be too disturbed when you pour water in. (this
is a VERY important thing to do) Pour in as much of the water as you can, before you put
the rock in. This way, you don't have to pour water onto the rock, and you have a way to
turn your rock over, to make sure there aren't any bubbles trapped under it in the tank.
If you are going to need supplemental water (and you will) Use the trash-can to pre-mix it
well before the move. Make 2X as much water as you think you are going to need. When
refilling the tank, that utility pump really begins to shine! Yes, it really is worth the
forty bucks! Obviously remove the saran wrap before you put your rock back in. :)
Your tank will now look like this: 90% full tank with rock and sand in it... Can you
see the rock? NO! You are probably going to have to aquascape your tank later... If you
have a canister filter, you may not have to do this. If you don't have the canister
filter, then try to put your corals down on the sand, in the front of the tank, and be
patient. It will probably be 24 hours before you can see your rock. If you can run the
canister filter, it may be more like 2 hours...:-) During this time, make sure that you
have as much circulation as you can get. Your sps corals, if you have any, will be
streaming mucous. They can actually suffocate in the mucous, if left with no circulation.
The more circulation, the fewer losses (if any) that you will have. Try to get the
plumbing reconnected for the sole reason of getting your skimmer running. That is your
mantra...chant to yourself..."Must run skimmer, must run skimmer" It will help
remove the coral slime, the turbidity from the water, and will provide oxygenation.
Your sand will probably release some compounds that you will want to quickly purge from
your water. The skimmer will help with this.
Once the water clears, you can aquascape your tank...then you're done. I have moved 3
tanks in-town this way, and have only suffered one fish loss. It is very tiring though,
and takes much more time than you think it will take, so remember to leave adequate
time, and PLAN AHEAD. If you do, your tank move can be kinda fun. Think about it, you
always wanted to move that rock from the bottom over to that other side, didn't you?
I think I've gone on long enough, so we'll have to talk about longer tank moves during
the discussion period. I'll turn it back to the OPS now and we'll take q's, then open
season. I mean forum. :)
What do we use to power the powerheads and heaters?
During the tank move (across town)...nothing. I use the powerheads and heaters to
provide my livestock with a small "tank in a tub" while I get everything broken
down, and then later set up again.
Anything practical that can be used for a power source, that would work for longer
longer moves... For SLIGHTLY longer trips, you can get a converter that plugs into your
car battery, which can operate 110V ac items. I know people who have used these, and they
work, but are pricey.
How can it be better to keep your rock and sand damp and not submerged?
It would be ideal to keep everything submerged. If you have the space and the means,
then double your amount of tubs, filling each of them up half way, then redistribute
everything so that it is submerged. Rock and sand does just fine if kept damp, for a few
hours, at least.
If you have a small tank like 29 or 55...could you conceivably just save all your
Yes, for small tanks, try to save all of your water. You will notice that no matter
what you do, you will not have enough water when you go to set the tank up again though.
If you have an overflow, this can be a problem, so make sure to have some extra water
handy. My easiest tank move was my 5 gallon. I just gave it to my next door neighbor, who
also liked reefs. We just drained half the water, carried it over there, then poured the
water back in...;-)
<tb> OK folks, we're going to open the forum now to discuss tonight's topic - for
off topic discussion, #reefs2 is now open
<tb> Well done, James.
<jameso> Thanks Troy.
<jameso> I'm sure I didn't cover everything, so letter rip!
<tb> I've got one - what about using carbon after the move?
* DBW is just waiting for someone to build a 200 gallon reef that you can just wheel
around to where ever you want it ;-)
<jameso> Carbon is a very good idea...I mean, just think of all that came out of
<Tang> excellent talk
<jameso> I have actually "skidded" a complete 60G reef tank from one
room to another before DBW!
<jameso> I had hardwood floors, so that helped.
<rdangel> Do you have to re-acclimate your fish?
<jameso> I lifted up one end about an inch and slipped a towel in there for
<jameso> Worked great.
<jameso> Yes, you should re-acclimate your fish.
<jameso> Run an air line down from the tank to their tub.
<DBW> Yeah, I have heard quite a few people talking about doing that sort of
thing, wheels on a 100 gallon tank :-O But hard floors help a lot with that sort of thing,
if you have carpet you can forget that.
<jameso> Tie a knot in the airline, and drip some tank water into the fishes'
<jameso> Carpet = bad.
<jameso> Lets face it, carpet and reeftanks don't mix!
<DBW> In more than one way .... ;-)
<tb> everybody, feel free to join in the discussion
<jameso> I agree, I would love to hear some tips from others.
<Tang> I'm trying to plan the shortest move possible for my tank
<jameso> If not, I can talk about my move from Berkeley to Houston.
<DBW> Got any hints on how to convince someone to help you move a large glass
tank? ;-) That's the worst bit I think, well it was when I moved my 140 gal tank.
<Tang> buy a new stand, put it next to the tank, and do a little juggling act
<DBW> You up sizing Tang?
<jameso> Yeah, my 3/4" thick 150 was a bear DBW.
<Tang> not yet...
<Tang> but I'd like to replace my ancient mariner original edition stand.
<jameso> You just have to have some REALLY nice friends.
<DBW> ... or lots of beer.
<jameso> Wow, Cool tang!
<Tang> made from 100% driftwood, that stand
<Tang> look like it at least..buttugly stand.
<BRose> Time for me to go. Thanks James! Enjoyed the
talk. As always, thanks to
the #reefs crew also.
<DBW> OK, well seems like you covered it pretty good James, you can all go for
general chatter now if you like.
<jameso> When dragging your sand across town, experts think that the sand should
be kept damp.
<jameso> I agree w/ this, as air can diffuse into the damp sand easily, much
quicker than through water.
<Tang> aha..good answer
<jameso> I've heard that from quite a few people, including Dr. Ron. S.
Thanks for the talk, James!
Last modified 2005-02-07 05:50