The Salty Side: Saltwater Aquariums for Beginners

Complete Saltwater Aquarium Setup: How I Run My Reef Tank

saltwater aquarium

I have put together this page so you can see exactly what I use in the running of my complete saltwater aquarium setup. When I first got the the saltwater aquarium bug, I found it super helpful to find someone who had a tank that I aspired to.  I then followed most of what they did in order to get my tank where I wanted it to be in the shortest time possible.  (I have of course made mistakes along the way and try to let others know where I went wrong so they don’t have to make the same mistakes.)  Hopefully I can be that person to you and if you have any questions, please feel free to contact me either through this site or through my Facebook page and I will do my best to answer them.  

Please note that some of these links may be affiliate links.  This simply means that if you click on a link I may earn a small commission, but this is at no extra cost to you.  It really does help me to keep working on the site and helping out as many other saltwater aquarium owners as I can. 

Equipment I use in my Setup

complete saltwater aquarium setup


This is my fifth and largest saltwater aquarium I have owned. I immediately decided on the Red Sea Reefer 625XXL. This was an upgrade from my previous Red Sea tank, a Reefer 350. At the time I upgraded there was a lot of forum discussion regarding Red Sea tanks splitting. However, when there is something to complain about, those people make sure you hear them. I have nothing but good things to say about Red Sea, there products and their aftersales service.


I decided to try out the Red Sea ReefLED 90’s to compliment my Reefer. They were new to the market at the time, and had been developed to make reef aquarium lighting as fool-proof as possible. I previously had Ecotech Radion XR15’s on my last tank. I do find that Red Sea’s app ReefBeat works amazingly well when compared to Ecotech’s EcoSmart Live app. The ReefLED’s definitely grow coral very well, even SPS. But if you are super fussy about shadowing, you will probably need more than the recommended LED’s. The Radion XR15 LED’s made colours pop a little more than the ReefLED’s, but for the cost difference you cannot go wrong with these.


For my heating I use two 300W titanium heaters. I always use two for redundancy. Should one break, the other will continue to heat the tank. I plug these heaters into an Inkbird WiFi Temperature Controller. The great thing about a WiFi controller is that it becomes an extra failsafe. If anything untoward were to happen with the temperature in my aquarium, I would be notified with the controller app on my smartphone.

Protein Skimmer

As each of my saltwater aquariums have increased in side, so have my protein skimmers. Of all the skimmers I have used, I think my current Red Sea RSK600 Skimmer is the best I have had. If you want to learn more about it, read my review here.

Alternatively, I have created a page to browse the best protein skimmer for your volume and budget here.

Red Sea Reefer Skimmer

Auto Top Off (ATO)

I cannot recommend this top off unit enough. I have been using the same one for almost ten years without any hitches. I have another on my frag tank which needed a replacement optic sensor after five years of use. The beauty of this brand is that all parts are available, and that the brand itself is very well regarded. I would not hesitate in recommending the Tunze Osmolator 3155.

Read my review here.

Auto Top Off Container

Red Sea Aquariums include reservoirs, and in mine the reservoir was 25L. I quickly realized that I was going using 25L a week. So I upgraded to a 10 gallon water tank – the same used in RV’s, and placed it in the side cabinet under the tank. I then plumbed in an RO water float valve. When I need to top up my water container, I run a length of RO tubing (kept rolled up beside the tank) to my RO unit, and turn it on.

Auto Doser Pump

Like the Tunze Osmolator, I have come to rely on the Kamoer F4 PRO Auto Doser Pump. In fact I have two of them running side by side. When I bought these, they were the best for your buck, and included WiFi connectivity, which others did not. They have never done me wrong.

dose a saltwater aquarium

3-Part Dosing Containers

I have always dosed 3-part, using food grade salts (read this article for more info). To ensure I always have enough of all three salts, I use a container similar to this one. Mine is no longer available.


I have tried a variety of wavemakers, including powerheads and gyres. I found at the time that powerheads create too much of a linear flow pattern – they would only move water in the direction they were pointed. This means that you need more of them to get the display volume moving efficiently. When Maxspect Gyres were introduced I bought them immediately and loved the flow they created but not the cleaning and maintenance (things may have changed now as they have progressed). I now use two Red Sea ReefWAVE 45‘s on my 5ft setup. The ReefWAVE’s use the same technology as Maxspect Gyres, but I find them simple to clean and maintain.

Return Pump

Over the years I have used a few return pumps, and have found the Jebao Marine DC pump to be very reliable. You should be using a return pump that moves the volume of your water over ten times an hour. I have 560L volume and use the DCT-6000.

UV Sterilizer

The addition of a UV Sterilizer in a saltwater aquarium is a personal decision. I am of the opinion that they keep pathogens at bay, and help to control unwanted algae. I will always run a UV Sterilizer. I also use larger than recommended due to a spate of dinoflagellates I had a few years ago. The Coralife Turbo-Twist UV is a good choice.

For more information on UV Sterilizers click here.

Phosphate Reactor

The Two Little Fishies Phosban 150 reactor has been around for years. It is marketed to use with Phosban GFO, but can be used with any other phosphate media. Once you have bought a Phosban 150 reactor you won’t need to buy another.

Roller Mat

After years of dealing with filter socks. Then watching the progression of roller mats over a last few years, as they ironed out the kinks. When Red Sea released their ReefMat 1200 I didn’t think twice, I bought and installed one immediately. I would highly recommend the Red Sea ReefMat as an extremely reliable piece of kit that removes the need for filter socks.

Test kits:

best saltwater aquarium test kit

Other Essential Equipment:

Refractometer:  Red Sea Seawater Refractometer

Glass Cleaner/algae Scraper:  Tunze Care Magnet Strong

Coralline Algae Scraper:  Aquarium Scraper

Nori Holder:  Innovative Marine Gourmet Grazer

Coral Feeder/Syringe:  Aquarium Choice Coral Feeder 

Dosing and Filtration:

Phosphate Control:  Rowaphos Phosphate Remover

Nitrate Control:  Red Sea NOPOX

Alkalinity Management:  Sodium Bicarbonate

Calcium Management:  Calcium Chloride

Magnesium Management:  Magnesium Chloride

Trace Elements:  Tropic Marin A- & Tropic Marin K+

Amino Acids:  Red Sea AB+

Phytoplankton:  Seachem Reef PhytoPlankton

Mechanical Filtration: Red Sea ReefMat 1200

Coral Dip:  RX Coral

Sea Salt:  Red Sea Salt

Coral Fragging

attach frags to frag plugs

Frag Plugs: Ceramic Coral Frag Plugs

Frag Containers:  Specimen Containers 

Fish bags: 6″ x 12″ Fish Bags

Rubber bands: Assorted Rubber Bands

Heat Pads for Shipping: Uniheat Shipping Warmer 40+ hrs

Shipping Carton: Polar Tech Insulated Carton

Superglue Gel: Gorilla Super Glue Gel

Epoxy Putty: Milliput 2-part putty

GHA and Red Slime Removal

Cyanobacteria Remover:  Chemi-clean Aquarium Treatment

Green Hair Algae Remover:  Blue Life Reef Flux

Copepod Culture

Copepod Breeding for Saltwater Aquariums

Container/Tank:  I used one similar to this one.    

Air tubing:  From lfs

Air regulator:  AquaNeat

Copepods:  Poseidon’s Feast

Copepod Food:  Spirulina

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