How To Set Up A Large Saltwater Aquarium

Updated 2024

Here we go! The following build is built around a 91 gallon Red Sea Tank.  But this ain’t no ordinary tank!  It comes with lights, stand, sump, plumbing, ATO, wavemakers, fleece roller, return pump, and protein skimmer.  Red Sea has been making top-of-the-line tanks for years, and this Reefer MAX won’t disappoint.  So if you want something big and beautiful, keep on reading!

Key Stats:

Size: 91 Gallon Display Tank, 114 Gallon Total Water Including Sump

Aquarium Dimensions: 47″L x 26″H x 22″W

Reefer MAX Series – Ultimate Plug and Play Aquariums

All Reefer G2+ tanks are now available in a MAX configuration with the optimal water management, filtration, circulation, and lighting—all controllable with the Red Sea ReefBeat app. Going with the MAX means no hassle in deciding which equipment to run and no questions about compatibility. Just pick your system size and stand color.

What’s Included?

Reefer MAX 425 G2+ Aquarium
Marine-Spec Cabinet
Sump & Pre-Glued Plumbing
(2x) ReefLED 90 and Mounting Arm
(1x) Reefer DC Skimmer 600
(2x) ReefWave 45 Gyre Powerhead
(1x) ReefRun 5500 Return Pump
(1x) ReefRun Controller
(1x) ReefMat 500 Automatic Filter Roller
(1x) ReefATO+ Auto Top Off System
(1x) Slide-Out Control Panel 60
(1x) Utility Basket

The Aquarium

Red Sea Reefer G2+ Aquariums feature rimless ultra-clear, beveled-edge glass with increased thickness. The central overflow box hides plumbing and allows for effective surface skimming. The removable weir comb makes for easy cleaning.

Plumbing the Reefer Aquariums is easy. Assembly-ready piping is included (no gluing required). The new and improved high-precision valve on the drainpipe makes it easier to fine tune the flow rate and offers near-silent operation.

Total System Water Volume: 114 Gallons
Display Tank Water Volume: 91 Gallons
Dimensions: 47.2“L x 25.6“W x 21.7“H
Glass Thickness (front/bottom): 0.47″
Glass Thickness (sides): 0.59″

Marine-Spec Cabinet

Each Reefer MAX Aquarium comes with a Marine-Spec Cabinet perfectly sized for the aquarium. The marine-spec laminated cabinets follow the contour of the glass and are now all fortified and made of plywood. The “floating tank” feature is now reinforced with front aluminum supports on all REEFER 625 G2+ models and larger.

(2x) ReefLED 90 Light Fixture & Mounting Arm

Red Sea’s ReefLED series is the result of years of research into the lighting needs of corals. Uniquely designed with a light intensity and spectrum that is 100% utilized by the corals, ReefLED lights are 100% reef-safe & 100% REEF-SPEC, providing optimal growth, vivid colors, and an elegant gentle shimmer throughout the aquarium. 

(2x) ReefWave 45 Gyre Pump (3960 GPH)

ReefWave pumps provide optimal flow for corals in a wide range of aquascapes, regardless of their position in your aquarium. Building on the popular patented Gyre cross-flow technology, ReefWave pumps are a refined pump design offering smart control features, powerful, nearly silent gyre flow, and easy maintenance that fans of gyre pumps will love. Each ReefWave pump can be controlled via the included controller, or you can access your pumps through Red Sea’s ReefBeat app.

ReefMat 500 Filter Roller

The ReefMat is the latest in automatic mechanical filtration from Red Sea. The ReefMat comes fully assembled and is designed to hang on the side of the Red Sea Reef-Spec sump. Being one of the only automatic filter rollers out there with app control, the ReefBeat app can alert you if your ReefMat needs maintenance, you’re running out of fleece, or there is an error.

ReeferDC 600 Protein Skimmer

Each Reefer MAX system comes with a perfectly sized Reefer DC Protein Skimmer. With self-leveling technology, a smart controller to connect your skimmer to the ReefBeat app, and a Sicce PSK pump at the heart of the operation, the ReeferDC skimmer is the perfect pairing for the Reefer Aquariums.

You’ll enjoy the small details that Red Sea has worked into this skimmer, like a manual neck cleaner, precision gear regulator to adjust the foam level, and a foam view window to enable you to see exactly where the foam level is in the neck of the skimmer.

ReefRun 5500 DC Return Pump & Controller

Based on the wildly successful and reliable Sicce platform, the Red Sea ReefRun pumps feature a familiar look and feel, but with some big upgrades. In addition to being able to set the daily flow schedule and activate feed modes, you’ll also get notifications if your pump is running dry, disconnects, or is otherwise malfunctioning, allowing you to quickly fix the problem and get everything back up and running without missing a beat. 

ReefATO+ Auto Top Off System

Every Reefer Max Series model includes the ReefATO+, an exceptionally reliable and smart auto top-off system. The ReefATO+ is more than just an ATO—it also includes an accurate temperature monitor and external leak detector, coupled with a smart controller that connects to the ReefBeat ecosystem to alert you if anything goes wrong. 

ReefATO+ Auto Top Off System

Every Reefer Max Series model includes the ReefATO+, an exceptionally reliable and smart auto top-off system. The ReefATO+ is more than just an ATO—it also includes an accurate temperature monitor and external leak detector, coupled with a smart controller that connects to the ReefBeat ecosystem to alert you if anything goes wrong. 

Slide Out Control Panel 60

With Red Sea’s new Slide-Out Control Panels, you can have all your reef monitoring and maintenance devices mounted in a single, easy-to-access location. Affix the panel to the side of your aquarium cabinet and enjoy easy sliding access to your equipment. Constructed from marine-spec laminated plywood and stainless steel.

An absolute must-have for your saltwater aquarium is a reliable heater. As we mentioned earlier, maintaining stability is vital for the well-being of your aquarium inhabitants, making a good heater essential.

Since most saltwater organisms thrive in temperatures between 77-78 degrees Fahrenheit, a heater is crucial unless your home naturally stays within that range. Conversely, if you live in a hot climate, a fan might be needed to cool down your aquarium.

Sicce is making a new contactless glass heater with a whopping 5 year warranty.  That’s crazy long for a heater.  Be sure to get two of them, one for backup, and you’ll need the 400W size.


CaribSea’s Life Rock Shapes offer distinctive and unique formations, all while being produced in an environmentally responsible manner (not extracted from natural reefs). Their surface is adorned with a coralline algae coloration, providing an instant living reef appearance.

Reef rock holds significance for several reasons: it acts as a habitat for beneficial bacteria colonization, creates hiding spots for your aquatic inhabitants, serves as a platform for coral mounting, and enhances the visual appeal of your aquarium beyond an empty enclosure.

Considering the scale of this build, I recommend acquiring 60 lbs of the Life Rock Shapes (on the left), along with an additional 60 lbs of the Life Rock (on the right). This combination will contribute to a well-rounded and engaging environment in your aquarium.

An algae scraper is a straightforward yet indispensable tool for every saltwater aquarium enthusiast. Despite your meticulous tank maintenance, algae growth on the glass is inevitable. This cost-effective scraper offers a swift and hassle-free solution to remove algae without the need for messy hands! Not only does it maintain the visual cleanliness of your aquarium, but as you siphon out the cleared algae, you also aid in the filtration process of your saltwater tank.

In the context of this large saltwater aquarium setup, we strongly advocate for both the traditional hand-held scraper and the innovative Flipper magnetic algae scraper. Drawing from our own experience, we find that having both options on hand proves invaluable for addressing diverse situations effectively!

I’ve owned this Flipper for several years, and the fact that you can switch between the stainless steel blade and the soft felt side without getting your hands wet is just too convenient to pass up! 

Just make sure to get the Flipper Float Max.  You could probably get away with just the regular Flipper, but the glass thickness is just above 1/2″, so the max is probably the better option

Besides employing filters and filtration media, performing routine water changes is essential to maintain your aquarium properly. This straightforward practice involves extracting a portion of the existing saltwater from your tank and replenishing it with fresh saltwater. While carrying out this task, a siphon can be employed to effectively vacuum and remove detritus such as fish waste and remnants of food from the tank.

For this particular saltwater aquarium setup, I suggest opting for the Python 2″ Large or XL.

Honestly, the thermometer I prefer is the one featured below. Surprisingly, it’s a waterproof meat thermometer. It’s not only budget-friendly but also waterproof, easy to clean, simple to store, and surprisingly accurate.

An essential tool for every saltwater aquarium enthusiast is a basic test kit. This becomes particularly valuable at the outset of your aquarium journey, aiding in testing for the completion of the nitrogen cycle.

While it might not be the most advanced kit on the market, its affordability provides a reasonable ballpark reading that suits the needs of most hobbyists. This tool plays a vital role in monitoring your aquarium’s well-being and detecting potential problems before they escalate into algae or bacteria blooms.

Taking a proactive approach to testing can contribute to the vitality and success of your saltwater aquarium. Therefore, having this test kit on hand is a prudent choice for any aquarium owner.

Remarkably affordable, a net is an absolute essential for every aquarium hobbyist! Its versatility shines through not only for catching and moving fish but also during the process of thawing frozen food, aiding in the removal of fillers or phosphates. Don’t overlook the value of this simple yet indispensable tool!

A refractometer is a handy tool used by saltwater aquarium hobbyists to gauge the salinity of their aquarium water. They are highly accurate as long as you let the water warm up to room temperature before taking a reading!  You can also pick up a bottle of calibration fluid as well… that way you will know it’s reading correctly!

Or just pick up this BRS refractometer below and it comes with Refracto Juice… Just salt water pre-mixed to 1.026 salinity.

Optional Items

To maximize the benefits of your RO/DI filter, it’s essential to match it with the appropriate salt mix. The market offers a variety of options, most of which perform well for a saltwater aquarium. Some are straightforward, providing fundamental water parameters, while others offer advanced formulations with elevated levels and additional enhancements.

I used to recommend a different salt, but I’m a huge fan of this Tropic Marin Pro Reef Salt.  Mixes clear and can store it forever, I always have a 50 gallon drum made up and ready to go for water changes or emergencies.  

Maintaining a stable temperature in your saltwater aquarium is crucial, as we previously discussed. Even the most reliable heating equipment can fail, leading to a complete aquarium crash. However, you can avoid such disasters with a simple and affordable solution priced at just $35. This device monitors your aquarium temperature, ensuring it stays within a precise 0.1° F range and prevents your heater from getting stuck in the “on” position, which could boil your saltwater.

The best part is that this controller can also handle cooling tasks! In my case, living in the desert, I use a fan during summers to keep my aquarium cool. I plug the fan into the “cooling” outlet and the heater into the “heating” outlet, maintaining a constant 78° F throughout the year. This impressive device also includes a built-in alarm, alerting me promptly if there’s a failure in the heater or fan. Remarkably, all these features come at an affordable price, making it an ideal addition to your budget-friendly aquarium build. With this controller, you can rest assured that your aquarium’s temperature remains stable, providing a safe and comfortable environment for your aquatic companions.

If you have a penchant for corals, assessing calcium and alkalinity levels is essential. I’ve experimented with several test kits, and my top recommendations include the Salifert Calcium kit and the unparalleled Hanna Alkalinity checker.

The Salifert Calcium kit is user-friendly and budget-conscious, yet consistently delivers dependable outcomes. On the other hand, the Hanna Alkalinity checker stands as a benchmark for quality and precision. Believe me, incorporating these test kits into your toolkit will be a decision you won’t regret.

While sand isn’t an absolute necessity, some enthusiasts are now favoring bare bottom tanks. However, introducing sand can genuinely metamorphose your aquarium into an authentic oceanic tableau. It not only elevates the visual appeal but also plays a pivotal role in biological filtration. Moreover, it serves as a snug retreat and a nourishment source for specific creatures.

When selecting sand, we suggest opting for the CaribSea brand for top-notch choices. Acquiring a few 20lb bags will be ideal for this setup. Enjoy the creative process of decorating your aquarium!

wet live sand for saltwater aquariums close up shot of 10 pound bag
Fiji pink sand in 20 lb bag with close up of grain size
clear bag of aquarium sand with CaribSea label and close up of grain size.
CaribSea Original Grade Ocean Direct

I possess around four or five of these units myself! They serve as my cost-effective solution to a pricier controller. I typically install these beneath my stand or in a discreet location, meticulously labeling each cord. This method allows me to conveniently switch off the specific equipment I need during maintenance. These devices have become a personal favorite, and I’ll continue advocating for their use in the future!

The RO/DI filter is a water filtration unit that transforms tap water into nearly pure water through the process of Reverse Osmosis Deionization. 

While some online hobbyists might emphasize the necessity of an RO/DI filter for any saltwater aquarium, this claim isn’t entirely accurate. Although it offers long-term cost benefits and advantages, there are other simpler options for small and beginner saltwater aquariums.

One option is purchasing pre-made saltwater and purified water from your local fish store. Alternatively, you can use filtered water from a grocery store.

Over the course of a year, a $300 RODI filter will save you hundreds of dollars, so while it may seem a bit steep of a price to pay up front, it pays for itself rather quickly.

This may seem like a silly thing to add to a build list, but I have found that these two brushes do the brunt work of my cleaning.  They have a stiff bristle and have held up for me for many years now. They work much, much, much better than a toothbrush!

If you’ve opted for the RO/DI filter I suggested for this setup, having a separate TDS meter might not be necessary. This is due to the fact that the RO/DI filter already includes an inline TDS meter!

However, getting a TDS meter can still be an enjoyable endeavor, as it allows you to test the total dissolved solids (TDS) of various substances, which can be quite intriguing!

When it comes to creating saltwater, your target is to achieve 0 TDS in the RO/DI water before introducing salt.

As a point of reference, I used to reside in Seattle, where the tap water typically measured around 40 ppm TDS. Since moving to Southern California, my TDS reading has risen to 140 ppm.

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