Vacation Time! Tips for your reef tank.


Active Member
View Badges
Mar 27, 2019
Reaction score
Rating - 0%
0   0   0

Photo taken from original post by @OceanRevive

As we approach the vacation season once again, your Reef Squad thought it might be a good idea to address some of the questions that keep some reefers up at night prior to the trip. Worse yet, they can keep you from truly enjoying your well-deserved getaway. Let’s go over some basic things we can do to prevent that from happening.

So the trip is booked, now what do I need to do? How will I keep my top-off water filled, how will I feed the fish? These are just a few questions asked here on R2R. The point of this thread is to help alleviate some of those concerns. This is not a specific product recommendation so let’s try to avoid that. Let’s keep the discussion to basic planning and preparation.

A bullet point list of things we can do prior to packing for our trip:
  • Most import, in my opinion, DO NOTmake any major system/equipment changes within 2+ weeks of leaving.
    • Obviously if a critical piece fails (ie. return pump) you’ll need to address it, but put off selected and optional upgrades.
  • If regular water changes (WC) is a part of your routine, do a WC just before you leave. Clean that skimmer too and give the glass a good scraping! Let’s start with a clean slate.
  • Socks
    • If you use filter socks, you’ll need to determine if they can stay or have to come out based on how long you’ll be gone. If they clog on day 5 and you’re gone for 7, remove them. Better to clean the bottom of a sump than replace flooring, at least in my opinion.

Photo by R2R member @Broadfield
  • Top Off Water
    • If you don’t already have an ATO (Automatic Top Off) you should seriously consider getting one (editorial note - this recommendation goes beyond vacation preparation). They make life much easier and assist keeping your salinity levels consistent.
    • Make sure your ATO reservoir is large enough to handle the number of days you’ll be away. You can always use an alternate/larger reservoir while you’re away, which is what I personally do. I just set it up temporarily next to the display.
    • If that’s not possible, then someone has to come over and fill the reservoir if needed.

Photo by R2R member @YodaHart of ATO reservoir created by @melev
  • Saltwater
    • It’s a good idea to have some saltwater pre-mixed in case it’s needed by your tank sitter. Just make sure they are labeled clearly. More on that later.
  • Food
    • If you’re only going for a long weekend, your fish will likely be fine without a feeding. Let’s face it, most of us over feed anyway. If you’re concerned, feed a little heavier the several days prior to leaving to fatten them up a little.
    • If you’re going to be gone for a week, many will say the fish will be fine for that time period as well. Again, you can fatten them up a little.
    • If longer or you simply want them fed while you’re gone, many use an auto feeder to feed dry foods while they are away. Just set it up a couple weeks ahead of time to make sure it’s working the way you’ve programmed it.
      • If you elect to have someone feed the tank while you’re away, carefully measure what you want fed, the times to feed, and carefully label each “package”. I would not recommend relying on the tank sitter to do your measuring. Use a cheap pillbox to put your portions in, or small snack-size plastic bags – anything to portion out the feedings and label clearly. BE SPECIFIC – feed this date, at this time, in this manner. You’re not going to insult their intelligence, you’re going to protect your inhabitants and dare I say your investment!

Photo by R2R member @Zaffor
  • Webcam
    • A great way to keep an eye on things while you’re away. Many options and it doesn’t have to cost a fortune. If you notice something going on, you can have your on-call person go by and take a look. Also can be handy in assisting someone from afar – think “no, not that valve, the other one”. I personally do not have my Webcam linked to my Apex, because I want complete control – this is just personal preference.

Foscam is one type of webcam commonly used by hobbyists
  • Tank Sitter or No Tank Sitter
    • At the very least, you should have someone on call to help if needed. Maybe drop by and look in on things. It would be best if this person has some familiarity with your system. What responsibilities you give this person is again a personal preference, but my opinion is to limit those responsibilities to an absolute minimum.
    • If they are feeding, this is where preparing the portions comes in to play. Same goes for keeping the ATO filled with fresh water, not saltwater. Very specific instructions are required for each and every item you’re asking them to do.
    • You can always hire a professional service company to watch over things. Your LFS more than likely offers this service.
  • Battery Powered Air Pump/Air Stone
    • Another relatively inexpensive back up is a battery powered air pump. There are models that will detect a power outage/interruption and automatically turn on. Just be careful of capacity vs. your tank size – it may take two! Make sure you have fresh batteries installed.
  • Controllers
    • Not a discussion on overall usage of controllers but if the controller has notification abilities this is one time you’ll love having one. Temp is out of range, pH has gone whacky, the house just lost power – all items you can make a call for help and possibly save your tank.
    • But as said earlier, do not wait until the week prior to your trip to purchase a controller and then feel comfortable relying on it.

Image of Puratek Insight 24/7 controller

These are the basics. The entire point of this long-winded blog is to remove the questions and concerns of leaving our addiction behind while traveling. We should all feel like we’ve done everything we can to prevent disaster while away. Then go away and worry about having fun and relaxing on our vacation, not our tanks. Yes, things happen, but as the old adage goes - an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

I promise you’ll be checking that new Webcam all the time that first trip. But as time and trips pass, you will get more comfortable knowing that you have done your preparation and baring some catastrophic event that you can’t plan for anyway, all will be fine. Maybe dirty, but fine.

Have a great trip and send a post card!
You really nailed it with these suggestions! I have an area in my fish room with all the "emergency" things (such as backup power supplies, DoS heads, etc.) for the house sitter to easily grab if needed, as well!

Your advice on not making any changes prior to leaving is the best advice here... I think we've all made that mistake.

A macroalgae reef engineer: Have you kept Halimeda in your tank?

  • I currently have Halimeda in my tank.

    Votes: 7 13.7%
  • I have kept Halimeda in my tank in the past.

    Votes: 10 19.6%
  • I haven’t kept Halimeda yet, but I plan to in the future.

    Votes: 7 13.7%
  • I have no plans to keep Halimeda in my tanks.

    Votes: 26 51.0%
  • Other.

    Votes: 1 2.0%