Whether you are going on vacation or simply want to reduce the daily responsibilities required to maintain your aquarium, tank automation can help. Automating your tank can be as simple as turning the lights on-and-off each day to more complex actions like topping off water lost from evaporation and even dosing additives. Timers, system controllers and dosing pumps are invaluable tools for modern aquarium keepers. In this article, we’ll review the Top 7 ways you can automate your aquarium system.

1. Lighting

AquaticLife light fixture with built-in timer

Reef aquarium inhabitants will benefit from a consistent light schedule. Your fish will become active just before your lights come on and will wind down later in the day before the lights go out in the evening. By incorporating actinic bulbs into your lighting system, you can recreate a natural "dawn to dusk" effect. Then add some moonlights to your timer to complete the 24-hour cycle for your tank.

To automate your lighting cycle, use a simple timer or a power strip with built-in timers. Modern light fixtures often have timers built right into the units (see AquaticLife for examples). More advanced controllers allow for even greater lighting control. By altering start and stop times, seasonal changes can be recreated—including the 28-day lunar cycle and the 365-day solar cycle. Many hobbyists and professionals credit this natural cycle for stimulating spawning in corals and reef fish.

2. Heating/Cooling

American Marine Pinpoint dual-stage temperature controller with temperature probe

Stability is one of the keys to success in our hobby. Using a temperature controller or an all-in-one system controller to monitor and control your tank’s temperature helps to ensure your system is within acceptable ranges at all times.

A single-stage controller is capable of controlling either heating or cooling, while a dual-stage controller can control both at the same time.

A dual-stage controller ensures the cooling and heating systems are not running at the same time, saving electricity and preventing wear. A full-featured controller allows any number of devices to be controlled. For instance, low-wattage fans can be turned on to maintain temperature before the chiller kicks in, saving electricity. Heat producing lights can also be shut off if the temperature rises too high.

Read How to Setup a Temperature Controller to learn how you can automate temperature control on your own system.

3. Auto Top-Off (for evaporation)

Elos Osmocontroller Digital Water Level Controller

All aquariums lose water from evaporation and manually topping off our systems can be quite a chore. Using an auto-top off unit will save you from carrying (and spilling) heavy buckets plus it will help your salinity level stable.

There are different ways to automate this task, from using a dosing pump to a water level float valve combined with a feed pump in a water reservoir.

Read How to Setup an Auto Top-Off System and watch the corresponding video to learn how you can setup your own auto top-off system.

4. Dosing (2-part supplements)

The SpectraPure LiterMeter 3 automatic precision dosing system

Dosing 2-part solutions to help maintain alkalinity and calcium within a reef tank is another task many hobbyists prefer to automate. Automation helps to keep these levels stable instead of bouncing up and down before and after dosing. The SpectraPure LiterMeter 3 (with the LM3-RPM Remote Pump Module) and AquaMedic Dosing Pumps draw in each liquid of the 2-part additive and dose them gradually over the day.

Read Additives: How and What to Dose to find out which water tests you should be performing and how supplementation can benefit your reef aquarium.



5. Auto Feeders

Lifegard Aquatics Auto Fish Feeder + Hopper

One of the most inexpensive tasks you can automate is feeding your fish. If your fish enjoy flake and/or pellet foods, adding an automatic fish feeder to your aquarium system is a no-brainer.

One of the greatest advantages of having an auto feeder is that you can set it to feed your wet pets while you are at work, school or on vacation. In fact, many fish will benefit from smaller, more frequent feedings rather than larger, once per day meals. Most feeders can dispense multiple feedings per day and can be loaded up with enough food to last for several months.

Feeding is one of the ways we interact with our pets, so many aquarists use auto feeders to supplement regular meals. Other hobbyists only use auto feeders for vacations. The low cost and versatility of automatic fish feeders make these items a staple in tank automation.

Read Aquatic Feast to learn more about feeding the animals in your reef aquarium.

6. Reactors (Calcium, Media, etc.)

Korallin BioDenitrator

Calcium levels can drop fairly quickly in a reef aquarium. The chore of dosing powdered or liquid calcium supplements may not be ideal for you or your tank. Calcium reactors replenish the calcium that has been utilized by the organisms inside your aquarium. Depending on the needs of your tank, you may no longer need to dose other additives or supplements.

There are several other types of reactors that help maintain ideal water parameters in reef aquaria.

Kalkwasser reactors (aka kalkreactors) maintain calcium, nitrate reactors reduce nitrates (algae fuel), media reactors (aka fluidized filters) can run carbon (keeps water from yellowing and removes odor), phosphate (high phosphate can inhibit coral growth and fuels algae) or biopellets (biological nitrate and phosphate control). Zeo reactors (for zeolitic or "zeo" filtration) help to maintain a low nutrient system by cultivating beneficial bacteria on zeolite rocks.

Read How to Setup a Media Reactor and/or How to Setup a Calcium Reactor to learn how you can add a reactor to your aquarium system.

7. Wavemaking (Powerheads and Wavemakers)

EcoTech Marine MP40 VorTech Propeller Pump w/ Wireless EcoSMART Driver

Creating a random flow inside your reef aquarium will help with nutrient export (reducing dead spots and keeping detritus in suspension so it can be captured by your filter), gas exchange (CO2 out, O2 in with surface movement) and create more lifelike living conditions for fish and coral.

Simple on/off wavemakers are an affordable way to alternate the water current inside your tank. EcoTech Marine VorTech Pumps with EcoSMART Drivers take wavemaking a step further, allowing users to select modes—tidal swell, reef crest and lagoonal random, for example—to better replicate real reef living conditions.

Read Water Movement in Aquariums and 6 Ways to Improve Aquarium Water Flow for more information about powerheads, wavemakers and maximizing flow.


As aquarium keepers, we perform many jobs so that our tanks will not only survive, but thrive (download our free Aquarium Maintenance Checklist for more information). Automating many of these tasks frees up time for you to enjoy the fruits of your labor and will create a more stable environment that rivals the living conditions provided by Mother Nature herself.