This article is going to, hopefully, help everyone in this hobby to actually be able to take a relaxing vacation. Everyone knows that if you are in the marine aquarium hobby, well ... there is no such thing as a relaxing vacation. Why? We all have way to much time and dedication in our tanks, not to mention the money we have spent on them!!
When we have to have someone else take care of something that we are so passionate about, well ... we get a little stressed about it. Can you really blame us? I am actually writing this while I am ON vacation, so anything that comes up while I am here will be added, because we all know that there are all kinds of unexpected circumstances that arise.
to Check on Your Tank
If your going to be gone for more than a couple days, you will want someone to look in on your tank. Obviously you want someone you can trust and that is responsible. After all, you are giving them the keys to your house. Secondary to that the more familiar with keeping reefs the better or at least someone that is detail oriented.
When I go on vacation, my sister is my tank sitter. She use to keep a 29 gallon reef and when we shared a house, she saw pretty much everything that I did to my systems, (Not to mention the fact that she is a science teacher at a local middle school). Now that they (my systems) are combined things are a little different, but I think she is up to the challenge. The things that I do everyday are minimal because my system is pretty much all automated. The only things that I have to do manually are feed the fish, and clean the glass. Cleaning the glass will be done by the cleanup crew I am buying when I get home. One less thing to do is gonna be great !!
Have A Call List
Another good idea is to introduce your tank sitter to CaptiveReefs.com or your local reef club's forum, so they can post questions or concerns if something looks out of the ordinary. Web forums are an invaluable tool in our hobby. Everyone wants to help and be helped and the Internet is, in my opinion, the best place to get help in a hurry. When something just does not look right other hobbyists are far more likely to give the right advise if the correct and detailed description of the problem is given to them. Sure a LFS can help, but I trust the answers given by my fellow reefers more than a kid who has no experience in the hobby that I have spent so much of my blood, sweat, tears, time, and money building. It is nothing personal against the kid in the LFS, this is just my preference.
Make A Check List
Each system is different, but you know what has to be done on a daily, or every other day basis. Write it all out on a check list. Be sure to keep the list to only the necessary things that need to be done. Adding extra complexity, is not only asking for trouble, but also creating an imposition on the person who is helping you.
2) Make Sure the Pumps are Running - Show your tank sitter how to tell what is running.
3) Check the tank temperature - If the temp gets above your maximum level (81 for me), the tank sitter can turn on the air conditioner or float some baggies of ice in the sump (make sure they know where the baggies are or have ice packs prepared).
4) Check the skimmer - Show you tank sitter how to empty and clean out the skimmer cup.
5) Topping off - Even though I have the ATO , a lot of people don't. This could be one of the most important things the tank sitter does. Low water levels can lead to pump and heater failures as well as high levels of salinity. Likewise, it is important not to overfill the system, this will cause a low salinity reading and to much of a sudden drop in salinity, to fast, is very stressful on the fish and corals.
6) Check specific gravity - Show your tank sitter how to use it and where the line should stay. Even though I have an auto top off (ATO) system to keep my parameters where they should be, I check this every day. The ATO keeps it pretty much on the money, but the one day that I don't check it ... something will happen and it will be all messed up.
8) Dosing Additives - I would par back the dosing to the bare essentials. Remeber keep it simple! Make a list of the additives and how much, of each, to add to the system. Leave these additives out and next to the check list. Hide all chemicals that you don't want used to avoid any potential accident from occurring !!
Tip - Proportion Any Additives Including Food-If you are going to have your tank sitter adding chemicals or food to your tank, you should have it proportioned. The human tendency for error is for overdosing and overfeeding, both of which are worse than not doing it at all.
Other Pre-Vacation Preparation
Top Off Water - Have Enough Fresh RO/DI Water On Hand - Be sure you have your barrel or jugs filled up and available to last your vacation and have it clearly label as "Top Off Water"
Pre-Mixed Saltwater - It is a good idea to have a pre-mixed 10% water change on hand. I would put this in the garage or another room and have it well marked that it is saltwater. The instructions with the sitter on this would be to call one of the on call reefing buddies. I wouldn't expect a water change unless other serious problems were occurring. It also assures you will have water handy to do a normal water change when you get home.
Label Electrical Cords - I recommend doing this for one reason. If something needs to be unplugged it will be a lot easier for the sitter, not to mention you, to identify the plug and remove it from the surge protector.
Power Loss Mitigation - Unless you have an automated generator system, get a few battery powered air pumps available at all times...ones that automatically turn on during a power failure are great for vacations. Just through them in your tank and plug them in while your gone. Keep a few packs of new batteries out and near the tank for the sitter just in case. Fresh batteries normally last a long time, I kept my tank going for over a day on one air pump and a set of batteries.
You can also use a UPS battery system that will operate a power head off from battery power. Again, be sure this equipment is functional and know the operational duration well in advance of leaving for vacation.
Automation - Timers and controllers are also important in our systems. They also can make life easier on your tank sitter. However, do not try to install timers and autotop offs right before leaving on vacation. I wouldn't feel comfortable with less than a month of operation before leaving. You should have these already programmed so that the sitter doesn't have to worry about them. The sitter will need to have been shown where they are, leave a manual handy in case they need it. Improper settings or faulty equipment in this area can have serious negative outcomes. So if this is something you are thinking of implementing, think ahead!
With a knowledgeable tank sitter, the right preparation, and keeping things simple...You and your tank should be able to survive several weeks apart...and hopefully enjoy yourself!
Obviously everyone's system is different, but thinking through the daily tasks and what is absolutely required and making sure to address both how to make those as easy as possible and ways to avoid disaster is key. Please add your comments and tips of things you do to prepare for vacation.