The Salty Side: Saltwater Aquariums for Beginners

best setup for saltwater aquariums

Recommended Setup

Saltwater Aquarium Recommended Setup Guide

Types of Saltwater Systems

Depending on the type of saltwater aquarium you are wanting to keep, depends on the setup you will need.  Deciding which is a personal preference.  Check out the differences below below the two main types of saltwater aquarium systems:


    What is FOWLR?  Fowlr stands for Fish Only With Live Rock.  Fish only tanks are easier to keep than reef tanks.  There is no coral, other than those that may have come unseen with the rock  We call these hitchhikers and they could be coral, sponges and/or invertebrates such as snails, crabs and starfish, so you don’t need to worry as much about temperature, dosing, nutrient levels (phosphates, nitrates etc.).  

    Owning a fowlr tank means you can keep fish such as Triggers and Parrotfish.  They are notorious for nipping at coral so would be perfect in a tank with live rock only.

    Some tank owners may use 
    artificial coral in order to get a reef tank look.  This can be easier as it doesn’t come with the responsibility required as it does when looking after real coral. 


    A reef tank usually consists of fish, live rock and coral.  It requires more attention and has a bigger learning curve.  You will need to monitor water parameters more closely.  As coral have different requirements when it comes to lighting, water flow and nutrients, success in keeping coral comes down to getting these right. 

    Fish will need to be reef safe otherwise you risk a large amount of broken coral.  Here are a few ideas of reef safe fish to add to your reef aquarium.

Recommended setup for FOWLR and Reef Saltwater Aquariums

I have listed the recommended equipment required for both FOWLR and reef aquariums below.  There are added items for a reef aquarium but the first section will apply to both. 

Please note that this is only a recommended guide.  You may do things differently but in order to run a saltwater aquarium, especially as a beginner, it will really help to have the equipment that will make things easier right from the start.  You will also end up saving a lot of time which will therefore increase your chances of success, satisfaction and continuation in this great hobby. 

Remember that if budget is an issue, you can always buy second hand/used saltwater aquariums from places like eBay and Craigslist and go from there.  

  • The largest aquarium and stand you can afford

  • Powerheads and/or wavemakers

  • Return pump

  • Sump

  • Lighting

  • Heating

  • Protein skimmer

  • Mesh aquarium cover (to stop fish jumping out the tank)

  • Auto top off unit

  • RO/DI unit or at least access to RO/DI water

  • Sand

  • Live rock

  • Test kits to monitor water quality

  • Refractometer

  • Salt

Additional equipment for a Reef tank:

  • Dosing unit (for maintaining alkalinity, calcium and magnesium)

  • Mid to high end lighting broad spectrum lighting (LED, florescent and hybrid)

  • Additional test kits for alkalinity, calcium and magnesium

  • Minor trace element dosing 

Now that you know what you need, take a look at the menu above for more information on all the items mentioned above.  You can also do a search using the search bar near the top of the page on the right hand side. 

Or try one of these articles for more in-depth information:

Recommended Setup

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