Moving an Aquarium – Experienced Tank Movers Tips!


How to move a mature, fully stocked aquarium is asked many, many times on the forums and it scares a lot of aquarium owners, but there are times when we need to move home, renovate the room or install new flooring and the aquarium has to be moved.

While working as an aquarium maintenance technician I moved a lot of aquariums for owners who did not know how to do it or were too scared.

Moving an aquarium is pretty straightforward once you know the steps and make a plan.

A plan and time are the two biggest considerations when moving any aquarium. Friends, packing supplies, towels, time, buckets, and premade water will be needed on moving day. Executing a well-drafted plan will ensure a smooth move. Never move an aquarium with water in it!

Using my experience of moving many aquariums safely I wanted to create this article to help you make a plan for when you next need to move your pride and joy!

This article is mainly focused on moving a saltwater aquarium with fish, invertebrates, and coral but many of the steps apply to freshwater aquariums, just ignore the salty bits!

Are There Different Types of Aquarium Move?

There are three main types of aquarium move and each has their own plans that need to be created:

  1. Temporary aquarium move for a change of flooring or location to a new room within the same building
  2. Moving to a new house within a couple of hours drive
  3. Moving to a new house across the country or many hours drive away

As you can imagine, the further the aquarium has to be moved the more thorough the plan has to be to ensure the move is completed safely.

Aquarium Move Planning

This is the part that can make a tank move easy and stress-free or the worst day of your life! Depending on the distance you are moving, will depend on when you need to start thinking of your plan. You need to sit down and start writing down every idea that you can think of about your tank move. Just brainstorm, no idea is useless at this point.

Spend a few days making this list. New ideas may pop into your head and you need to just make a note and add them to the brainstorm. Ask friends and family to think of ideas. They may have a different view to you and suggest some really good things you may not have realized.

Notepad

No matter the distance the aquarium is moving, the plan stays the same, just the details of the plan will change. Once you have your brainstorm, start to try and layout the ideas in a logical order following this timeline:

  • One month before the move
  • Two weeks before the move
  • One week before the move
  • The day before the move
  • The day of the move
  • The day after the move
  • The week after the move
  • Two weeks after the move

This will start to give you an idea of what needs to be done and when so you don’t forget anything. This will also allow you to allocate the correct amount of time to each task. Don’t forget to add in buffer time!

Lets look at each type of move to see what needs to be planned:


This is a long, detailed article with some steps repeated in each section where applicable, so if you want to jump to the section most relevant to you click on the heading below:

Temporary Aquarium Move – See Below —
— Moving An Aquarium Within a Few Hours Drive – Click Here —
Moving An Aquarium Across the Country – Click Here


Temporary Aquarium Move

Laying Flooring

When new flooring is required, renos are wanting to be completed or the aquarium needs to be located to another room is when the simplest plan is required.

When this type of move occurs, the aquarium, all its equipment, and its livestock will be going back just as it was before the move so its more a case of having a temporary home for the livestock and a plan on what to move and when.


I had to do this to my own aquarium when I was in my early 20’s as my parents wanted a new carpet fitted – I can tell you that it was almost a 24 hour process so be prepared for a long day! Since then I have learned many tips and techniques that drastically improved the moves!


One to Two Weeks Before Moving Day

  • Confirm the exact day for the move, ensure the contractors (or whoever is making you move the tank) are booked for the same day!
  • If additional help is required get asking – family, friends and local aquarists are all great.

One Tip is that even empty aquariums are heavy – Make sure you have enough bodies to carry the aquarium.

75G Glass Tank = 100lbs Rough Empty Weight
120G Glass Tank = 190lbs Rough Empty Weight
210G Glass Tank = 350lbs Rough Empty Weight

You can rent suction cups and dollies from most Tool Rental Stores

  • Begin to assemble your supplies:-
  • Rubbermaid Totes & Bins are great for livestock storage
  • Clean all storage totes and bins thoroughly!
  • Obtain a heater and small powerhead for each tote/bin
  • A digital thermometer for each storage tote/bin – Relieves your anxiety!
  • Dr. Tims One and Only Nitrifying Bacteria Culture – Here at Marine Depot (Fresh & Saltwater Versions)
  • Ammonia, Nitrite and Nitrate Test Kits – I recommend Salifert – Here at Marine Depot
Brute Trash cans Are Great!
  • Get some big fish nets – Makes catching fish so much easier!
  • Build a frame to hang lights over coral totes if its a reef tank
  • Ensure your totes are large enough for the amount of livestock you have
  • Collect old towels & Cardboard to walk on – You will use lots!
  • Collect salt or RO/DI water ready for the move
  • Collect empty salt buckets or new 5 gallon pails from a hardware store – Clean thoroughly
  • If you are planning any aquarium or equipment upgrades, ensure you have all the supplies and new gear
  • If any specialist tools, adhesives, or sealants are required ensure you have them all

Three Days Before Moving Day

  • Confirm with the contractors again and confirm they are showing up at the right time!
  • Confirm your help is still available!
  • Stop feeding the livestock
  • Give the sandbed/gravel a really good vacuum, blast the rocks with a turkey baster and do a good 25% water change
  • Ensure the new/temporary location is ready and the area is clear between the two locations
  • Assemble all your moving supplies into the locations they need to be at
  • Test all the pumps and heaters to ensure they work and they hold the correct temperature

The Day Before Moving Day

  • Make up enough water for a 50% water change. Store in a Rubbermaid bin. Ensure the water is heated to the correct temp, salinity is correct (if required), and moving with pump and heater.
  • Ensure this bin is not in the way! Trust me I made that mistake once!
  • Begin to move as much of the equipment that is not required as you can:
    • Food
    • Medications
    • Maintenance tools – Keep these handy
  • Get all the tools required close by
  • Have a good dinner and get a good night’s sleep! Tomorrow could be a long day!

On Moving Day

  • Get up early and have a good breakfast!
  • Check all your temporary storage bins are ready to go
  • Ensure the new water is mixed and up to temperature
  • Lay out cardboard on the floor and cover it with the old towels everywhere you plan to walk
  • Begin to remove approx 50% of the water into a storage tote that is out of the way. This is for your livestock containers! A Python Vacuum is great for this as it has a long hose
    You can find one Here at Marine Depot

One Tip is to ensure there is a person on each end of the hose! Hoses pop out of containers very easily!

  • Remove all the ornaments or Live Rock and Coral and place them into a container with some of the aquarium water you just removed
    • Install heater, pump, thermometer
    • If its coral, get the lights moved onto their temporary frame and ensure the light schedule remains as it was – Turn down the light intensity 50% to prevent bleaching or place them higher
Rubber Maid Totes are Great Storage Containers
  • Try to begin catching fish and invertebrates now there is nothing but water and substrate in the aquarium
  • Transfer them to containers with some of the old aquarium water
    • Install heater, pump, thermometer
    • Ensure the livestock that is in the totes can tolerate each other – Use the chart below if it is a saltwater aquarium:
Saltwater Fish Compatibility Chart
  • Remove all remaining water from the aquarium – NEVER move an aquarium with water in it. The dynamic loads could crack the tank or impose loads on that could allow it to burst in the future!
  • If the sand bed is over 3 inches deep remove it and dispose of it as the bacteria and matter stored deep within it will foul the second its all removed and mixed together
  • If the sand bed is under 3 inches deep remove the sand or gravel and place it in a bin with water, a pump, and a heater. This will help preserve the beneficial nitrifying bacteria living within the sand
  • Remove all the filtration and place in a storage container with old tank water
    • Install heater and a pump
    • This ensures that all the beneficial nitrifying bacteria living in the filter media will survive the move ready for when we need them at re-installation!
  • Ensure the areas and walkways are clear of tools and equipment
  • Move the aquarium, stand, and any additional equipment well out of the way

During The Moving Day

  • Once all the room is vacated, ensure no dust or contractor mess can work its way to your aquatic holding area. Tape up the door seams etc
  • Now its time for some chores while the contractors do their work:
    • Ensure regular spot checks of all the storage totes for temperature, salinity (if required), and livestock
    • Clean all the equipment with some old aquarium water so its like new when its re-installation time – DO NOT use clean tap water to wash filter media – You Will Kill the beneficial nitrifying bacteria!
These Door Zippers From Amazon.com Work Great
  • Take a break when you can – DO NOT HAVE A BEER! – Just yet. You need your head clear!
  • Order in pizza for your helpers and relax while you can!

Re-Installation

Once you have the room back and everything has dried, its time to start getting the aquarium back together.

  • Get the aquarium and stand installed and ensure it is perfectly level
  • Get all plumbing connected and electrical extension cords etc neatly secured
  • Begin to reinstall your aquascape with your Live Rock while placing in the substrate – Always place your rocks on the glass and not on the substrate

If you require new substrate you can find a really nice selection Here at Marine Depot. They also have a handy sandbed calculator so you know how much to get. You can find the calculator Here


  • Begin to fill the aquarium with the water you first removed from the aquarium and stored in a container – Heated and moving with a pump
  • As your aquarium begins to fill and covers all the equipment you can start to fire up the filtration and leak check
  • Fill 50% of the aquarium with old water and have the other 50% with the new water you had previously made and heated ready

One Tip is to slowly pour/pump your old tank water through a filter sock and onto a dinner plate/saucer as it goes back into the aquarium. This will help remove any sediment from when it was first removed and keep sediment from being stirred up.

  • Once you are sure there are no leaks, completely fill the system
  • Run all the pumps, filters, and wavemakers to ensure everything is running as it should
  • If you have media reactors installed, leave them empty for today to allow the mechanical filter to remove the suspended sediment
  • Check all the water parameters before adding your livestock

Because your livestock are going into a new environment I highly suggest you acclimate them just like you did when you bought them home for the first time.

If you need any tips on fish acclimation check out this article. It works for freshwater too, just leave out the salt parts:

How To Acclimate Saltwater Fish

  • Begin to slowly acclimate each fish over 30 minutes and add your livestock with the most aggressive and territorial fish going in last
  • Reinstall the lights and canopy and leave the lights off for the rest of the day
  • Do not feed the fish
  • Add in a recommended dose of Dr. Tims One and Only – This will help boost the growth of the nitrifying bacteria. You can find it Here at Marine Depot in both fresh & saltwater versions
  • Have a thorough inspection of all the equipment, pipes, connections, and cables to ensure everything is working perfectly

Fire up the grill and give all your helpers a well-earned steak and a few cold ones!

Barbecue

The Day After Moving Day

  • Inspect all the equipment and ensure it is all running as it should with no leaks
  • Replace the mechanical filter media to help clean up the water
  • Do a full panel of water tests, especially ammonia

One Tip is that your aquarium will probably go through a mini nitrogen cycle. Make sure you begin to test for ammonia, nitrite, and nitrate daily for the next week or so to monitor any spikes.

  • Keep the lights at 50% for today but allow them to ramp back up 10% each day until back at your full setpoints. If lights are not dimmable, adjust the length of ‘On Time’ each day
  • Do a very small feed to the fish and check every fish for signs of distress and appetite

Two Days After Moving Day

  • Do a 10-20% water change
  • Replace the mechanical filter media as the water should now be clear
  • Begin to add some media back into your media reactors if you have them installed. Up to 50% works fine.
  • Keep testing your water and monitoring for signs of distress

One to Two Weeks After Moving Day

  • Slowly begin increasing feeding back to the original amounts
  • Remove any fish that show signs of distress and place them into quarantine
  • Begin your regular maintenance routine
  • Monitor for signs of high Nitrite or Ammonia and do a water change if values begin to rise too high.

Hopefully, your aquarium move will have gone smoothly without too much stress and loss of livestock!

Moving Aquarium Within A Few Hours Drive

This is by far the most common type of move an aquarium will do. The tank is not moving too far away and the owners usually want to keep all of their livestock. This is still a fairly simple process but requires a little bit more planning, some additional time and a few extra supplies added.


Many people chose this time to do an aquarium upgrade and having a new aquarium to install at the new location before the move is a great benefit! It also allows you to plan and create the setup of your dreams!


This type of move is similar to the ‘Temporary Move’ you may have just read through but with some additional steps. The main difference here is that everything has to be packed up and moved and this will add stress to your livestock.

BIG TIP: I can tell you from experience to NOT move your aquarium the same day as you are moving your house! The stress and hassle it causes are immense. I have seen arguments, dropped possessions, and rushed installations that are regretted later!

Always try and move the Aquarium on a seperate day to house moving day!

If you have to move on the same day then you will need a team to move your house possessions and a team just to move your aquarium – Unless its a small tank, then just yourself.

Two to Three Weeks Before (Aquarium) Moving Day

The main thing you need to acquire here are the moving supplies for the livestock. You have two choices:

  1. Pack everything into bags like they do at the store, or
  2. Build some transport containers to ship bigger quantities in one container

For this type of move and to prevent repetition we will focus on packing livestock into bags like the fish store does, but if you wish to see how to build some fish transport containers, have a read over the ‘Moving Across Country’ section after this.

For packaging your livestock you are going to need to aquire the following:

  • Various sized bags or containers for your fish, invertebrates and coral frags – Double or triple bagging is a must! View Some Examples HERE at Amazon.com
  • Rubber bands
  • Insulated livestock shipping boxes. View Some Examples HERE at Amazon.com
  • Air Pump – Filling livestock bags with air will increase the survival rate
  • Newspaper for packing
  • Labels – For livestock bags
  • Sharpie Marker – For labels
  • Packing Tape
  • Heat or Cool Packs – Climate Dependant – Taped to the inside of the lid, do not allow the pack to touch any bags! – Just get the small ones, large ones create too much heat!
  • Slowly start to reduce the feeding amount to help control Ammonia during shipping. Fish especially can go weeks without food so reducing the amount they eat is not going to hurt them
  • If you are installing a new aquarium or doing a major installation revamp, begin to acquire all the plumbing, electrical, and carpentry supplies and tools
  • Formulate a design of where the new/existing aquarium will go – Try and view the new house to look at the electrical outlets and possible water/drain locations if required
  • Do the flooring, walls, and trim need to be changed/painted before the aquarium gets installed – Make a plan for that

One Tip is that if the new aquarium is larger, get into the basement of the new house or inspect the floor and see if the structure can take the load – My house is 100 years old so I reinforced the floor joints with a simple 2×4 frame.

This article may help you: How Much Does An Aquarium Weigh?

Aquarium Joist Bracing
My Basement Bracing
  • If additional help is required, get asking – family, friends and local aquarists are all great.

One Tip is that even empty aquariums are heavy – Make sure you have enough bodies to carry the aquarium.

75G Glass Tank = 100lbs Rough Empty Weight
120G Glass Tank = 190lbs Rough Empty Weight
210G Glass Tank = 350lbs Rough Empty Weight

You can rent suction cups and dollies from most Tool Rental Stores

One Week Before Moving Day

  • All the packing supplies above should have arrived by now
  • Begin to assemble your moving supplies:
  • Rubbermaid Bins are great for holding aquarium water – Ensure you have enough to hold all the water for the new aquarium! 200 gallon tank = 10x 20gallon trashbins
  • Clean all storage totes and bins thoroughly!
  • Get enough pumps and heaters for each trashbin to mix and heat the new water
  • Dr. Tims One and Only Nitrifying Bacteria Culture – Here at Marine Depot (Fresh & Saltwater Versions)
  • Ammonia, Nitrite and Nitrate Test Kits – I recommend Salifert – Here at Marine Depot
Brute Trash cans Are Great!
  • Get some big fish nets – Makes catching fish so much easier!
  • Collect old towels & Cardboard to walk on – You will use lots!
  • Collect salt and/or new RO/DI water filters for the initial fill
  • Get new sand or gravel for your aquarium – Trust me its worth it!
    You can find a huge substrate selection Here at Marine Depot

To Calculate how much sand you will need to use Marine Depots’ Handy Calculator – Here

  • Ensure you have all the necessary tools, materials, and construction supplies you will need for the installation

Two Days Before Moving Day

This is where there can be several plans of attack depending on the new house situation. If you have access to the new house this is what I recommend:

  • If you are installing a new aquarium:
    • Get it leak checked (Outside) installed, plumbed, and ready to go at the new house
    • Fill the aquarium with the new substrate, fill it with water and turn on all the equipment
    • Leak check all the plumbing
    • Insert the recommended dose of Dr. Tims One and Only Nitrifying Bacteria Culture
  • If there is no new aquarium:
    • Just prepare the new water for your old aquarium. In a Rubbermaid bin/s, get some water made up and get the heaters and pumps working to get it mixed and up to temperature. Place lids on the bins so your water will be ready
    • Make sure to keep it out of the way, but close by to allow for easy aquarium installation

Back at the old house:

  • Cease feeding all the fish
  • Set up a long table next to the aquarium – This will help to set up a production line for bagging and boxing fish, invertebrates, and coral
  • Place down towels on the table – It will get very wet during the bagging process
  • Get all the packing supplies laid out in logical order:
    • Bags, rubber bands, sharpie marker, insulated boxes, newspaper, heat/cool packs, packing tape, another sharpie marker
  • Have several Rubbermaid Totes ready under the table to place the LiveRock in
  • Have clean cloths ready to cover the Live Rock
  • Pack up all the aquarium supplies, food, tools, and medications that will not be needed – Label the box

The Day Before Moving Day

  • Confirm the moving truck and helpers are still available
  • Get all the cardboard and towels down and ensure the exit routing is all clear
  • Do a 25% water change to help remove any last traces of nitrates and ammonia
  • Do a full panel of water parameter tests
  • Make a note of the current water parameters to ensure new water matches upon re-installation
  • Check the new house to ensure the new aquarium and/or water is ready – Temperature and salinity (if required)
  • If house moving day has already happened, ensure all the entry and routing is clear of obstructions and trip hazards
Beautiful Floors Need Protecting!
  • Place cardboard and towels down on the route inside the house to protect from drips and shoes
  • Have a good dinner and get a good night’s sleep! Tomorrow could be a long day!

On Moving Day

  • Get up early and have a good breakfast!
  • Begin to remove approx 50% of the water into several 5 gal pails/buckets with lids – This water will go into the aquarium at the new house
  • Begin by removing the aquascape rock or decorations
  • Live Rock (if applicable) to be placed in totes. Carefully cover with cloths dampened in aquarium water. Ensure each rock is stable in the tote to prevent coral damage. A sheet of Egg crate on the base can help stabilize
  • If required, insert heat/cool packs into ZipLock bags and tape to the underside of the lid, place lid on tote
  • Catch fish and place similar species in the same bag. Large fish in one bag. 2 smaller fish in one bag, max!
Acclimation Bag Floating
  • Double bag and fill bag with air from the air pump. Secure bags with rubber bands
  • Place bags into insulated boxes, fill voids with newspaper
  • If required, insert heat/cool packs into ZipLock bags and tape to the underside of the lid, place lid on the insulated, and label the box and lace the box to one side
  • Repeat until all livestock is sealed away in boxes
  • If a new aquarium awaits at the new house, get going with fish and leave friends to dismantle the old aquarium, substrate, water, and dispose of – Don’t forget to take the 5gal pails of old tank water to the new house!
  • If the old aquarium is moving to the new house, now is the time to give it all a really good clean while removing the old substrate and dismantling
  • I find it easy if someone dismantles, passes the part to a helper and they clean and dry it.
  • Remove all remaining water and substrate and dispose
  • Break down the aquarium and pack into the moving vehicle

Take time to have a break, eat, sit down, and relax before driving to the new house! There is still a long day still left to go!

  • Upon arrival at the new house, if the aquarium is all ready then great, if you brought the old aquarium, get it installed, leveled, plumbed, wired and ready for livestock.
  • Check water parameters of new aquarium water or water in the Rubbermaid bin/s you prepared a few days before.
  • Ensure the parameters match your old aquarium water EXACTLY!
  • Remove Live Rock from the totes and place on glass bottom. Move substrate out of the way if its the new tank.
  • Complete the aquascape and move substrate into position around the Live Rock
  • If doing this in the new tank, the water will become cloudy!
  • If it is the old tank, remove each cloth slowly as you build the aquascape
  • Fill a spray bottle with old tank water and use to dampen rock and coral if they start to dry up
  • Add the pails of old tank water to the aquarium (You may have to remove some water from the new tank. Turn off equipment before removing the water
  • This old water will help minimize the mini nitrogen cycle that your aquarium will go through over the next week or so.

Because your livestock are going into a new environment I highly suggest you acclimate them just like you did when you bought them home for the first time.

If you need any tips on fish acclimation check out this article. It works for freshwater too, just leave out the salt parts:

How To Acclimate Saltwater Fish

  • Begin to slowly acclimate each fish over 30 minutes and add your livestock with the most aggressive and territorial fish going in last
  • Reinstall the lights and canopy and leave the lights off for the rest of the day
  • Do not feed the fish
  • Add in a recommended dose of Dr. Tims One and Only – This will help kickstart the growth of the nitrifying bacteria
  • Have a thorough inspection of all the equipment, pipes, connections, and cables to ensure everything is working perfectly

Fire up the grill and give all your helpers a well-earned steak and a few cold ones!

Barbecue

The Day After Moving Day

  • Inspect all the equipment and ensure it is all running as it should with no leaks.
  • Replace the mechanical filter media to help clean up the water
  • Do a full panel of water tests, especially ammonia

One Tip is that your aquarium will probably go through a mini nitrogen cycle. Make sure you begin to test for ammonia, nitrite, and nitrate daily for the next week or so to monitor any spikes.

  • Keep the lights at 50% for today but allow them to ramp back up 10% each day until back at your full setpoints. If lights are not dimmable, adjust the length of ‘On Time’ each day
  • Do a very small feed to the fish and check every fish for signs of distress and appetite

Two Days After Moving Day

  • Do a 10-20% water change
  • Replace the mechanical filter media as the water should now be clear
  • Begin to add some media back into your media reactors if you have them installed. Up to 50% works fine.
  • Keep testing your water and monitoring for signs of distress

One to Two Weeks After Moving Day

  • Slowly begin increasing feeding and light schedules back to their original amounts
  • Remove any fish that show signs of distress and place them into quarantine
  • Begin your regular maintenance routine
  • Monitor for signs of high Nitrite or Ammonia and do a water change if values begin to rise too high.
New Installations Always Allow You To Build A Better Aquarium!

Hopefully, your aquarium move will have gone smoothly without too much stress and loss of livestock!

Moving Aquarium Across The Country

This is the hardest and most time consuming move an aquarium can make, but it can be done successfully by using a few methods and depending on your attachment to your livestock will depend on which method will best suit you

Method #1:
Selling all your livestock and only transporting the aquarium and equipment

Method #2:
Shipping all your livestock to a holding facility until you have moved, installed, and matured the aquarium then have them shipped back to you

Method #3:
Driving all the tank, equipment, and livestock across the country

To give you the very best resource we are going to discuss each method so you can see which one may best fit your needs when it comes to moving time.

Method #1 – Selling

To most aquarists this is by far the easiest and most convenient way as the stress of moving house, especially with a cross country move is right up there towards the top of life’s most stressful times.

No matter if your aquarium is just a goldfish tank or a full coral reef, the easiest option is to break it down many weeks or months ahead of the move and save the money from the sales of your livestock to buy new.

Frag Rack
Lots of Coral Frags Can Fetch Big Bucks!

This is especially so when we are talking a mature coral reef aquarium! Selling frags or colonies of beautiful corals can soon turn that bank balance into a fat piggy bank if you have the market around you to sell them to.

If this method is the one you wish to pursue, get fragging your corals and selling them months before the move. DO NOT leave it until the last week before the move unless you really want to get stressed!

This method is by far my best recommendation!
Mainly because it allows you to start off with a clean slate when you get to your new home and it removes the risk of livestock fatalities during the move.

You may wish to try a different aquascape, a different type of coral, heck you could even get a new, bigger aquarium because we are always wanting to upgrade. This method will also prevent you from having to move a potentially large, heavy, and fragile aquarium!

Method #2 – Holding Facility

If you already have all of the livestock and/or corals you could ever want and you can’t bear to part with them, then shipping them ahead to a holding facility or leaving them at a holding facility where you currently live are great options!

Shipping your livestock to and from a holding facility can be done fairly easily, but it’s going to need to be planned months in advance and it could cost you quite a bit of money.

One Tip if this sounds like a viable option I highly recommend you do this a week or two before moving your house and then have them shipped to you a week or two after the house is moved. Trying to do this on the same day or even a few days before moving your whole house is just pure insanity!

Bryopsis Nuisance Algae – Pick Your Holding Facility With Care!

Method #2:
Several Months Before Moving Day

The first thing is you need to find someone to ship them to who you trust and has the husbandry standards you are happy with. There are several ways to find a holding facility:

  1. Call some of the local (New Home), reputable fish stores in the area and talk to them about renting tank space. Even better is to go and visit them, inspect them, see what they can offer you, and for how much and how long.
  2. Reach out to the forums and see if any local aquarists may be able to help you. I have seen it many a time where fellow aquarists are able to help each other out.
  3. If you have any aquatic friends where you currently live, see if they can hold your livestock for you, then ship it to you a few weeks after the move.

Each scenario is going to be different so you will have to reach out and see what options are available to you. Now its time to gather your packing supplies.

Method #2:
One Month Before Livestock Shipping Day

Once you have confirmed the location of the holding facility and agreed on a shipping date you are going to need to get enough packing supplies to move your livestock to the holding facility and provide them with enough supplies (and beer/wine/scotch) for them to ship them to you when required.

Here is a good list of recommended packing supplies:

  • Various sized bags or containers for your fish, invertebrates and coral frags – Double or triple bagging is a must! View Some Examples HERE at Amazon.com
  • 4mil thick poly bags recommended if Live Rock & coral being shipped
  • Rubber bands
  • Insulated livestock shipping boxes. View Some Examples HERE at Amazon.com
  • Clean cotton cloths for wrapping Live Rock
  • Air Pump – Filling livestock bags with air will increase the survival rate
  • Newspaper for packing
  • Labels – For livestock bags
  • Sharpie Marker – For labels
  • Shipping Labels from Shiping Carrier
  • Packing Tape
  • Heat/Cool Packs – Climate Dependant – Taped to the inside of the lid, do not allow packs to touch any bags! – Just get the small ones, large ones create too much heat!
  • Get some big fish nets – Makes catching fish so much easier!

Method #2:
Two Weeks Before Livestock Shipping Day

If you are shipping your livestock to a holding facility close to your new home you need to look into the following steps to ensure your overnight livestock shipments don’t get left behind!

Finding Your Shipper Closed On Moving Day is Really Bad!
  • Shipping company store opening times or pickup time arranged
  • Estimated shipping cost so you can budget – Same day or next day
  • Latest drop off time at the shipping company for that shipping schedule – Plan for at least 1 hour before
  • Timeline of how long it’s going to take to bag and pack every item to meet the shipping deadline
  • Possibly drive directly to the airport to save a journey in the UPS van – Time how long that journey and booking in time will take – Go and speak with the cargo agent at the airport
  • Begin to reduce how much you feed your fish – Plan to completely stop feeding them 2-3 days before shipping
  • Get a few helpers lined up – It will make catching and bagging far easier!

If you are leaving your livestock behind and a friend or store owner is going to ship them to you I recommend you do all these before you leave and have them accompany you or give them all the details to relieve their stress of shipping your livestock!

Method #2:
Two Days Before Shipping Day

  • Call the holding facility to confirm they are ready to accept your livestock
  • Cease feeding all the fish
  • Set up a long table next to the aquarium – This will help to set up a production line for bagging and boxing fish, invertebrates, and coral
  • Place down towels on the table – It will get very wet during the bagging process
  • Get all the packing supplies laid out in logical order:
    • Bags, rubber bands, sharpie marker, insulated boxes, newspaper, heat packs, packing tape, another sharpie marker
  • Get all the shipping labels filled out and ready
  • Re-check your timeline to ensure you leave enough time to catch, bag, box, and deliver the livestock to meet the shipper’s deadline if you are shipping them across the country – Confirm no road construction or detours have popped up!

Method #2:
The Day Before Shipping Day

  • Do a 25% water change to help remove any last traces of nitrates and ammonia
  • Have a good dinner and get a good night’s sleep! Tomorrow could be a stressful and long day!

Method #2:
On Shipping Day

  • Get up early and have a good breakfast!
  • Begin to remove approx 50% of the water to give the fish less water to swim in
  • Begin by removing the aquascape rock or decorations
  • If you have a coral and Live Rock:-
    • Carefully cut with and Exacto-knife or Dremel (according to coral type) any coral growing between two rock pieces – DO NOT tear it!
    • Place rock pieces in 4mil thick poly bags
    • Carefully cover with cotton cloths dampened in aquarium water
    • Place a few cupfuls of aquarium water in the bag
    • Be careful not to squash any corals on the rock against bag sides/base
    • Triple bag each piece of Live Rock
    • Secure each individual bag with rubber bands
  • Catch fish and place similar species in the same bag. Large fish in one bag. 2 smaller fish in one bag, max!
  • Double bag all fish and invertebrates and fill bag with air from the air pump.
  • Secure bags with several rubber bands
  • Place all bags into insulated boxes, fill voids with newspaper
  • If required, tape heat/cool packs to the underside of the lid, tape the lid closed, and label the insulated box. Place the box to one side
  • Repeat until all Live Rock and livestock is sealed away in boxes
Mr Kang's Korean Reef
SPS Coral Will Require Careful Packing!
  • Send someone to deliver or start delivering your livestock to the shipper or local holding facility
  • If the facility is local, help them unpack, acclimate, tidy up and ensure they have lots of supplies ready to ship to you in a few weeks/month
  • Ensure you leave the required amount of booze/steak/gift cards to thank them for this monumental undertaking!
  • If the old aquarium is going in the house move, now is the time to give it all a really good clean while removing the old substrate and dismantling
  • I find it easy if someone dismantles, passes the part to a helper and they clean and dry it
  • Remove all remaining water and substrate and dispose
  • Break down the aquarium and pack using styrofoam sheets and blankets to prevent impact breakage to the glass
  • Label it well so anyone who is moving it knows exactly what it is and roughly how heavy and/or how many people are required to move it!

Method #3 – Driving

Well if you wanted a challenge, you certainly have one if you pick this method, but it can be done! I can tell you now that it is going to get stressful and packing up day, moving, and unpacking day are going to be some of the longest days in your life, but if your livestock just has to go with you, then Buckle up for some more readin’!

When moving the house and a mature aquarium at the same time it needs some careful planning and almost two teams of people. One team to pack up the house and one team to pack up the aquarium. It’s going to get busy!

A Mature Discus Tank Will Need Careful Planning To Move Too!

If you are moving a freshwater aquarium then the job is ALOT easier, but if you are moving a mature saltwater aquarium teeming with corals, Live Rock, invertebrates, and fish then the job is going to be a lot more involved!

To ship your livestock this way, the only this can really work is if you drive the aquarium stuff yourself, while the house and the rest of the family go via a moving company and driving/flying etc.

Depending on the size of the aquarium, you may have to rent a Uhaul van or something similar as you could have a dozen or more bins and totes containing all the livestock plus all the aquarium and equipment.

This type of move will have some similar steps to all the moves talked about above but with its own caveats!

One of the best ways to transport fish, coral, and rock long distances is to create Livestock Transport Containers or something similar. To help you better understand please watch this video I created to show you how to easily make one:

The number of containers you may need will vary but each one will need to be heated and have air. You can run several containers of a single air pump using a manifold like this one at Amazon.com, just remember the more air outlets you run off a single pump, the bigger the air pump will need to be.

Also, for a selection of suitable heaters from Amazon.com here is what you will need based on water volume for each container:

Water VolumeHeater WattageRecommended Heater
2.5 Gal5 WattThis One
5 Gal15 WattThis One
10 Gal50 WattThis One
20 Gal100 WattThis One
  • If you are moving coral and Live Rock I suggest using Rubbermaid Totes (See Below) as they are easy to place the rock in with a little water. If you have coral frags then a tote with a heater and a small water pump will ensure plenty of flow for the times when the vehicle is not moving.
  • If your vehicle or rental vehicle has a 110v outlet then take note of the maximum wattage you can run off it. My Minivan is 150 watt so make sure your containers are not going to max it out.
  • 4x 2.5 gallon containers will use less wattage to run then 1x 10 gallon container. Be sure to check the wattage on the water and air pumps too!
  • If your vehicle does not have a 110v outlet and/or you need more wattage than the outlet can supply, you can buy an inverter like This One at Amazon.com to convert 12v from the car battery to 110v.
300 Watt Inverter

Method #3:
One to Two Weeks Before Moving Day

  • Confirm the exact day for the move, ensure the moving company is booked for the same day! If you are renting a van, ensure that is booked too.
  • Help will be required, get asking! – Family, friends, and local aquarists are all great.

One Tip is that even empty aquariums are heavy – Make sure you have enough bodies to carry the aquarium!

75G Glass Tank = 100lbs Rough Empty Weight
120G Glass Tank = 190lbs Rough Empty Weight
210G Glass Tank = 350lbs Rough Empty Weight

You can rent suction cups and dollies from most Tool Rental Stores

  • Begin to assemble your livestock supplies:
  • Rubbermaid Totes & Bins are great for creating livestock transport containers
  • Ensure your totes are large enough for the amount of livestock you have and you have enough of them
  • Clean all storage totes and bins thoroughly!
  • A heater and airpump/airline for each tote/bin
  • A digital thermometer for each storage tote/bin – Relieves your anxiety!
  • Dr. Tims One and Only Nitrifying Bacteria Culture – Here at Marine Depot (Fresh & Saltwater Versions)
  • Ammonia, Nitrite and Nitrate Test Kits – I recommend Salifert – Here at Marine Depot
Brute Totes Are Perfect For Moving!
Find Them Here at Amazon.com
  • Get some big fish nets – Makes catching fish so much easier!
  • Collect old towels & Cardboard to walk on – You will use lots!
  • Collect RO/DI water (san salt if required) ready for the move
  • Get new sand or gravel for your aquarium – Trust me its worth it!
    You can find a huge substrate selection Here at Marine Depot

To Calculate how much sand you will need to use Marine Depots’ Handy Calculator – Here

  • Collect empty salt buckets or new 5 gallon pails from a hardware store – Clean thoroughly
  • If you are planning any aquarium or equipment upgrades, ensure you have all the supplies and new gear before you leave, or confirm they are already at the new house
  • If any specialist tools, adhesives, or sealants are required ensure you have them all with you
  • Begin to reduce the amount you feed the aquarium. Plan to be completely stopped feeding 2-3 days before moving day

Method #3:
Three Days Before Moving Day

  • Confirm with the movers and van rental again
  • Confirm your help is still available!
  • Stop feeding the livestock
  • Assemble all your moving supplies into the locations they need to be at
  • Test all the water pumps, air pumps, and heaters to ensure they work and they hold the correct temperature

Method #3:
The Day Before Moving Day

  • Make up enough RO/DI water to fill several 5 gallon pails – This will be for partial water changes over the multiday journey. Ensure you have a small heater and mixing pump if your aquarium is saltwater
  • Begin to pack as much of the equipment that is not required as you can:
    • Food
    • Medications
    • Maintenance tools – Keep these handy
  • Get all the tools required for aquarium disassembly close by – Ensure tool batteries are charged
  • Pick up the rental van if possible
  • Have a good dinner and get a good night’s sleep! Tomorrow could be a long day!
Beginner Fish Header
Fish Can Survive A Long Time Without Food

Method #3:
On Moving Day

  • Get up early and have a good breakfast!
  • Park your rental van for the aquarium close by, but not in the way of the house movers!
  • Get the power cords and inverter (if required) installed in the vehicle – Ensure They Work!
  • Ensure your house moving party is good and give your partner a kiss! It could be a stressful day!

Don’t Rush, Take Your Time, Be Methodical, Be Efficient


  • Begin to remove approx 50% of the water into a storage bin/tote that is out of the way. This is for your livestock containers! A Python Vacuum is great for this as it has a long hose
    You can find one Here at Marine Depot

One Tip is to ensure there is a person on each end of the hose! Hoses pop out of containers very easily!

Here is how I recommend splitting up your livestock ready for transport with some of the old aquarium water:

  • Fish into buckets, containers, totes – They are going to need water, heaters, an oxygen pump, and lids
  • Inverts into buckets, containers, totes – They are going to need water, heaters an oxygen pump and lids
  • Ensure the livestock that is in the containers can tolerate each other – Use the chart below if it is a saltwater aquarium:
Saltwater Fish Compatibility Chart

If you have a coral and Live Rock:

  • Carefully cut with an Exacto-knife or Dremel (depending on coral flesh type) any coral growing between two rock pieces
  • Live Rock go into one or several containers – Each container will need water, heater, and lid – Remember its heavy! Make each container manageable
  • Loose corals into buckets or totes – They are going to need water, heaters, and lids. A small water pump will aid in water movement. Egg crate will help them stay in place and can be made into compartments to help support each piece while allowing water movement. Zip-Ty’s work great for securing and creating sections – No Metal on Zip-Ty’s!
  • Don’t cram in too much rock and be sure not to crush any coral
Coralife Digital Thermometer
Cheap And Easy To Use Thermometers
Find Them Here at Marine Depot
  • Remove all remaining water from the aquarium – NEVER move an aquarium with water in it. The dynamic loads could crack the tank or impose loads on that could allow it to burst in the future!
  • Take a few 5 gal pails of old aquarium water with you to help seed the new installation
  • Remove the sand or gravel and dispose of it. The amount of bacterial dieoff from disturbing the sand/gravel could cause a tank crash when re-installing! I have seen it a few times with owners that would not listen!
  • Remove any the biological filtration media and place in a storage container with old tank water or a livestock container
    • Install heater, pump, thermometer
    • This ensures that all the beneficial nitrifying bacteria living in the filters will survive the move ready for when we need them at re-installation!
  • Ensure the areas and walkways are clear of tools and equipment
  • Move the aquarium, stand, and all additional equipment into the moving vehicle first. You will need access to the livestock throughout the journey
  • Get all the livestock totes into the vehicle and get them hooked up to power
  • Ensure they are secure, working and cannot tip over
  • Last into the vehicle you will need the following:
    • Some 5 gal pails of clean RO/DI water for water changes and salt and measuring cup if required
    • Heater and mixing pump if saltwater
    • Jug for removing water for water changes
  • I highly recommend you get a few spares of the following life support items:
    • Airpump
    • Water pump
    • 12V Inverter
    • Heater of each size

Method #3:
During Transport

Moving across a country the size of the US can take days, especially in a rattly, diesel moving van but providing your life support systems are woking then you should have no problems.

Here are a few great tips to think about when driving long distance:

  • The movement of the vehicle will help keep the water moving in the containers. The only time you need a very small water pump is for corals when the vehicle is parked overnight
  • When parked overnight, run a power cord to the vehicle to power all the life support equipment
  • Ensure you have good fitting lids but with a hole in the middle to allow for gas exchange
  • Place down cardboard and blankets on the floor of the vehicle if it is carpeted and transporting saltwater. Dried salt is a nightmare to clean up!
  • Every night or 24 hours completely remove the lids for a minute or two to really help exchange gas while checking on livestock health
  • Any dead coral or animals, remove them instantly
  • Test ammonia levels daily in each container
  • Do small water changes with the water (and salt if required) supplies you have. Just 10-15% is sufficient in each container. Ensure water parameters match!
  • If possible try not to move in winter or the dead of summer. It makes the stress level go way up!
  • If moving in winter or the middle of summer relocate all the livestock bins into the hotel/motel room and make sure it has air conditioning
  • Try and drive the trip in one go using multiple drivers – Just be sure to check livestock while gassing up.
  • Install a digital thermometer into the cargo area of the moving van to monitor the ambient temperature in there. – Too warm and you will cook the livestock
  • If containers are beginning to get too warm using a cool patch like These From Amazon.com can help
  • Place one in a ZipLock bag and securely tape to the underside of each lid to help combat the temperature rise
  • Be sure to monitor using the digital thermometer installed in each container

Method #3
Destination Arrival

  • Get cardboard and towels down to protect your new flooring and ensure the routing is all clear
  • Get all the livestock bins moved into the aquarium room but placed out of the way
  • Ensure lots of room for installing the aquarium
  • Plug in all the life support systems to the house power
  • Do an ammonia test on every container and inspect livestock
  • Do a 10-15% water change on any containers with ammonia reading anything above Zero ppm
  • Remove any dead animals
  • Bring in the containers of old and new water – Get the up to temperature
  • Begin to make enough new water to completely fill the aquarium when needed – Get it up to temperature and salinity if required

The key here is to ensure the livestock is healthy before moving onto aquarium installation

Method 3#:
Re-Installation

  • Get the aquarium and stand installed and ensure it is perfectly level
  • Get all plumbing connected and electrical extension cords etc neatly secured
Remote Sumps Can Take Hours To Plan and Fabricate!
  • Begin to reinstall your aquascape with your Live Rock while placing in the NEW substrate – Always place your rocks on the glass and not on the substrate
  • Once all your water is ready begin to fill the aquarium with the water you first removed from the aquarium and stored in the 5 gal pails
  • As your aquarium begins to fill and covers all the equipment you can start to fire up the filtration and leak check
  • Fill the aquarium with all the old water you have and have the rest of the new water ready

One Tip is to pour your old tank water through a filter sock as it goes back into the aquarium. This will help remove any sediment from when it was first removed.

  • Once you are sure there are no leaks completely fill the system
  • Run all the pumps, filters, and wavemakers to ensure everything is running as it should
  • Add in a recommended dose of Dr. Tims One and Only – This will help kickstart the growth of the nitrifying bacteria. You can find it Here at Marine Depot in both fresh & saltwater versions
  • If you have media reactors installed leave them empty for today to allow the mechanical filter to remove the suspended sediment
  • Check all the water parameters before adding your livestock

Because your livestock have been traveling for some time I highly suggest you acclimate them just like you did when you bought them home for the first time.

If you need any tips on fish acclimation check out this article. It works for freshwater too, just leave out the salt parts:

How To Acclimate Saltwater Fish

  • Begin to slowly acclimate each fish over 30 minutes and add your livestock with the most aggressive and territorial fish going in last
  • Reinstall the lights and canopy and leave the lights off for the rest of the day
  • Do not feed the fish
  • Have a thorough inspection of all the equipment, pipes, connections, and cables to ensure everything is working perfectly

Method #3:
The Day After Installation Day

  • Inspect all the equipment and ensure it is all running as it should with no leaks.
  • Replace the mechanical filter media to help clean up the water
  • Do a full panel of water tests, especially ammonia

One Tip is that your aquarium is going to go through a mini nitrogen cycle. Make sure you begin to test for ammonia, nitrite, and nitrate daily for the next few weeks or so to monitor any spikes.

  • Keep the lights at 50% for today but allow them to ramp back up 5% each day until back at your full setpoints. If lights are not dimmable, adjust the length of ‘On Time’ each day
  • Do a very small feed to the fish and check every fish for signs of distress and appetite

Method #3:
Two Days After Moving Day

  • Replace the mechanical filter media as the water should now be clear
  • Begin to add some media back into your media reactors if you have them installed. Up to 50% works fine.
  • Keep testing your water and monitoring for signs of distress

Method #3:
One to Two Weeks After Moving Day

  • Slowly begin increasing feeding and light schedule back to their original amounts
  • Remove any fish or coral that show signs of distress and place them into quarantine
  • Begin your regular maintenance routine
  • Monitor for signs of high Nitrite or Ammonia and do a water change if values begin to rise too high.

Hopefully, your aquarium move will have gone smoothly without too much stress and loss of livestock! Moving a mature and healthy aquarium across the country is no easy feat and you must expect a few fatilites.


Wow, that was a long article! I hope you managed to find some good tips in there that I have accumulated over many aquarium moves!

Planning and allowing enough time and money for the move will see that it should be a success. It’s going to be a long and stressful experience but there are times when it just needs to be done!

Further Reading

If you found this article helpful and would like some more information on topics applicable to your impending tank move I highly suggest the following:

Richard

Hi, I'm Richard and I have been an avid aquarist for over 30 years with a passion for Saltwater Aquariums. I love to pass on my knowledge to help others get the same amount a pleasure out of this hobby as I do. View my About Me page to find out more about me & my mixed reef aquarium.

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