Moving a Saltwater Aquarium Tip and Tricks

by Paul Lenkiewicz

Moving a fishtank can be compliated, Citymove is here to help you prepare for your move

Moving an aquarium, particularly a saltwater one, can be challenging. Keeping all of the coral and animals alive in the process, particularly during a long move can seem nearly impossible. Citymove team has collected some great pieces of advice to help you prepare and understand risks.

How heavy is my aquarium?

Weight and size are one of the biggest factors while moving an aquarium. Let’s start with the basics: 1 US gallon of saltwater weighs 8.54 lbs. This means that in your 50-gallon tank, the saltwater alone weighs 427 lb. This combined with the stress on the glass from tilting and movement makes it pretty clear why moving an aquarium filled with water is impractical for a medium or large aquarium. Moving a small aquarium (15 gallons or less) may be possible while it is filled, but comes with its own risks.
  • 10 gallon tank filled weight is approx. 110 lbs
  • 25 gallon tank filled weight is approx. 280 lbs
  • 40 gallon tank filled weight is approx. 450 lbs
  • 75 gallon tank filled weight is approx. 750 lbs
Moving an aquarium on a dolly
High quality moving dolly will make it easier to move the aquarium on a flat surface.

There are a number of ways to deal with the weight, but the most popular method for same-day moves is to remove the fish from the tank, and then drain approx 75% or more of the water out to maintain the live rock and other organisms that may be too difficult to remove or to keep alive out of the aquarium. As soon as you drain the water, the clock is ticking. If you are doing a long-distance multi-day move, it is nearly impossible that everything will survive in your tank. If you are moving the same day, you need to have good quality water at the destination to fill the tank back up as soon as possible. Good quality means devoid of toxins, at the proper salinity, and the right temperature! Shocking everything in the tank with 50F water after everything has already been in a stressed condition is bad for the tank. Pack up your heater, and start heating the saltwater at the destination just like you should during water changes. If your water quality is excellent to begin with, you can also use the water you drained at the pickup.

When preparing for your move, as soon as you drain your aquarium, the clock is ticking so be prepared.

For long-distance moves, your options are even more limited. It will be very difficult to keep coral and other live material… alive during the trip, and the movers likely will have a very difficult time dealing with the sloshing seawater on their truck. Packing up the fish and coral into separate containers and trying to keep them warm and fed during the trip, then rebuilding your tank at the destination can be an option – your best bet is to talk to a local pro.


Heater in a bucket will warm the water up to a the appropriate temperature for your aquarium
Place a heater inside of buckets with saltwater about to be added to the aquarium.

Maintain the same temperature during the moving process

Saltwater animals and reef require a steady temperature in the range of 75-78 F. Swings of a few degrees for a short period of time will stress the fish and coral, but likely will not kill them. As soon as you unplug the heater, the clock likely starts ticking, unless the temperature in your home and outside is very close to that range. If the outside temperature is significantly lower than 75F, your tank will start losing heat very quickly. On the flip side of that coin, even if the temperature is only 85F or slightly higher, on a sunny day the cargo compartment of the truck can quickly reach 110F and start heating up your tank rapidly. Moving your tank in these weather extremes adds a lot of complexity to the situation.

On a sunny day the cargo compartment of the truck can quickly reach 110F and start heating up your tank and livestock right away.

If you have packed up your fish and coral, you need to find a way to keep them warm or cool. Keeping them in your car and keeping your car running with the temperature set to around 75F is likely the most practical solution. Fish should be packed into buckets or bags, with enough oxygen to sustain them for the trip. The bags that fish are shipped via mail or roughly the bag the size you may see when purchasing from your local fish store is enough oxygen to last approximately 48 hours. Avoid sending the buckets or bags of your fish and coral with the moving company. There are many items in the moving truck that make it difficult and impractical for the movers to handle your fragile fish beyond the temperature.

How to lift the aquarium

If your aquarium is completely drained empty and clean, there is a lot less complexity to moving it. Avoid stacking it on its side as that may damage the seals, and generally do not place unnecessary pressure on one wall during the process, especially with larger tanks (50 gallons or more). If you decided to leave some of the live material inside the aquarium, the name of the game is to try to keep it as level as possible at all costs. Forearm moving straps or shoulder moving straps will be extremely helpful in helping you lift the weight properly without tipping the tank. If you have a full flight of stairs to climb up or down, the method described earlier where the tank does not get completely drained will likely not work.

Forarm straps can be very helpful with moving appliances, as well as an aquarium
Example of forearm straps being used to move a fridge. You can use them in the same way on an aquarium on a stand to keep it level.

Package everything as well as you possibly can for the move

The best piece of advice I can give you while trying to move your fish tank is to package everything really well before the move and make sure to label everything so once you are moved in it is easier to unpack and set your tank back up. Zip tie the bags with fish. Place your heater, flow, and even your filter inside bags and zip tie those as well. Label each piece of livestock and equipment so you can unpack efficiently.

If you are planning to move soon, CityMove is a great tool that can help you find the best movers at competitive rates. Moving companies on CityMove have years of experience moving and many of them have completed successful moves including freshwater and saltwater aquariums. Describe your move and post your listing so movers can compete with each other and offer their best moving quote.


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