How to Survive a Power Outage

Here are some tips to help your aquarium survive in the event of a long term (2 hrs or more) power outage:

Your first concern should be keeping your water oxygenated. Normally your filter pumps, circulation pumps and/or power heads keep your water well oxygenated. When you lose power, this process stops and gradually the water will no longer be able to support its inhabitants. Depending on many variables such as tank size, temperature and stocking levels, if the power is out for 2 hours or less your fish and other livestock will usually be all right. If you notice the fish gathering at the surface and “gasping” for air, it is a sure sign that the oxygen levels are depleting.

Before doing anything: Turn out the lights in the tank. Cover the tank with a blanket to help maintain temperature and to shut out any ambient light. Significantly reduce or even stop feeding. All of these things will slow down the metabolism of the fish and thereby use up less oxygen. If checking the fish, do so gently. Do not startle them. After doing the above, here are some ways of keeping your water oxygenated and, in some cases, your other life-support equipment operating, in the event of a power outage. (In order of ease, efficiency and, unfortunately, expense):

An Automatic Generator: These generators can power anything from a single outlet to an entire house. They are usually hard-wired into your home and switch on automatically in the event of a power outage. They are therefore capable of running all of your aquarium equipment including temperature control, filtration, circulation pumps and even lighting, and will do so whether you’re home or not! Automatic generators are usually powered by propane gas. For total piece of mind, this is the way to go!

A Portable Generator: As above, only do not switch on automatically. Usually are pull-started or can be hooked up to a battery to provide push button starting capability. The downside is you need to be home to operate it and replenish fuel (usually gasoline) on a regular basis. Even small units are usually sufficient to run all of your tank’s equipment.

Back-Up Power Supply: Small units containing deep cell batteries often used in conjunction with electronics, computers, etc. Most have limited power and battery life, though there are many different models to choose from. These would be permanently hooked up to all or a portion of your tank equipment and would automatically switch on in the event of a power outage. Once power is restored the battery will recharge itself and remain on stand-by until the next outage.

Deep Cell Battery Operated Air Pump: These will switch on automatically and operate several air stones for up to 28 hours keeping the water oxygenated. Once power is restored, the battery will recharge itself and the unit will remain on standby. (Life Aquatic carries these units for $119.99 (Airline, air stones and check valves not included)).

Hand Held Battery Operated Air Pump: These are small units powered by D cell batteries which will run an air stone to help keep your water oxygenated. They must be manually switched on and the batteries must be replaced as they deplete. (Life Aquatic carries these units for $11.99 (Includes airline and air stone. Batteries not included)).
Elbow Grease: The most cost effective method of providing oxygenation (and the best exercise!). You can help keep the water oxygenated indefinitely by simply scooping some water out of your tank with a glass or pitcher and pouring it back in from about 6” above water surface…. over and over and over again. This must be done repeatedly and often (every 10-15 minutes for a few minutes at a time) Keep your eye on your fish for signs of stress such as gasping for air at the surface. If this occurs, increase the duration and frequency of this procedure.

Hydrogen Peroxide: As a (very) last resort you can add oxygen to the aquarium by dosing Hydrogen- Peroxide, which most people have in their first-aid cabinets. When Hydrogen-Peroxide (H2O2) mixes with water (H2O) it releases its extra oxygen molecule. The net result is added oxygen in the water. AS A GENERAL RULE: Adding 1 teaspoon (5ml) of 3% Hydrogen Peroxide for every 10 gallons of actual water in your tank, (tank capacity less decorations, equipment, gravel, etc.) will produce oxygen for an appropriately stocked tank for about 12 hours. This should be done by adding the H2O2 to a gallon or so of water scooped out of the tank, mixing same and then pouring the mixture into the tank from 6” or so above the tank. NOTE: THIS SHOULD ONLY BE DONE AS A LAST RESORT TO SAVE THE LIFE OF YOUR FISH. IT CARRIES WITH IT ITS OWN SET OF RISKS AND OVER-DOSING CAN BE TOXIC. THE EXACT DOSAGE TO BE USEFUL DEPENDS ON YOUR EXACT TANK, ITS VOLUME, HOW MANY FISH YOU HAVE, THEIR SIZE, ETC., ETC. MAKE SURE THE H2O2 IS 3% SOLUTION. IF IT’S 6%, USE HALF AS MUCH. 9%, ONE THIRD AS MUCH, ETC. BETTER TO START WITH A LESSOR DOSE AND OBSERVE THE FISH FOR SIGNS OF DISTRESS, BEFORE USING A FULL DOSE. (DISCLAIMER: WE ARE NOT RESPONSIBLE FOR ANY NEGATIVE AFFECTS THAT THE ABOVE REGIMEN MAY CAUSE.)

Other considerations:

Temperature Control:

The next concern (usually after a few days) is temperature control. Your tank inhabitants can generally tolerate small swings in temperature for short periods of time. Ideally your water should be kept as close to 78 degrees as possible. A swing of 3 or 4 degrees in either direction for a day or two usually will have no adverse effects. If, however, the temperature rises or falls by more than that amount, some action needs to be taken.

To cool down your tank:
Place ice cubes or an ice-pack in a sealed zip-lock bag and place in the tank for a short period, all the while monitoring the water’s temperature. Ideally you want to lower the temperature gradually over the course of several hours and then keep it there by repeatedly adding and removing the zip-lock bag as required. Changing the temperature too quickly or too radically will cause more stress to the fish than just leaving the temperature alone, so be careful to avoid same.

Opening the lid of the tank will allow trapped hot air to be vented and help keep the water cool.

Manually fanning the top of the water surface will help cool down the water. If you have one of the small battery operated fans, they would be ideal.

Close any shades or blinds near the tank to keep the room as cool as possible.

To warm up your tank: Keep some heat-packs on hand. These are available at most drug stores in the first aid section. Breaking the seal of these packs causes a chemical reaction to occur which heats up the bag, often for many hours. Place one or more of these in a zip-lock bag and place it in the tank. See above for precautions with respect to rapid temperature shifts.

If you have the ability to heat water, do so, and put it in a hot water bottle or a zip-lock bag and float that in the tank. Repeat as needed.

Wrap your tank in a blanket to prevent as much heat loss as possible.

Filtration: In most instances your aquarium can survive many days without filtration as long as oxygenation (and perhaps temperature control) is provided. In order to reduce any ill-effects caused by reduced filtration, reduce or stop entirely the feeding of your fish. Most fish can survive many days without food. Feeding will produce more fish waste, deplete oxygen and intensify any ill-effects caused by reduced filtration. Once power is restored you will want to do a large water change as soon as possible. With the pump now running, top off the tank to the proper level.

Lighting: Your fish do not require lighting and most of your photosynthetic corals and inverts can survive many days without light.

So, as you can see, with a little planning your tank can survive a moderate length power outage.

Our goal here at Life Aquatic is for you to be successful marine aquarists and we hope the above information will add to your knowledge base and be helpful in the event of power loss. Stay safe!