How to make heavy-duty shelving for fish tanks stronger

How to make heavy-duty shelving for fish tanks stronger
How to make heavy-duty shelving for fish tanks stronger

In the laboratories of aquatic research centres, fish tank rack systems are often used for experimentation, husbandry, or quarantine. Each stand-alone fish tank rack system is usually made of 2 to 3 shelves. Each shelf can contain 1 to 4 fish tanks from 10 to 1500 litres (or 2 to 400 gallons). As a result, fish tank rack systems must be capable of withstanding a large amount of weight. It means the rack will have to hold sometimes over a ton between the equipment and the volume of water. Hence, ensuring the shelving structure’s safety, stability and durability is more than a matter of convenience in the stringent requirements of research environments.

Let’s review the key considerations when designing a safe and durable fish tank rack system with heavy-duty shelving for fish tanks.

Problems you will avoid with a stable and durable rack

The importance of safety and durability in shelving systems for fish tanks cannot be overstated. Here are a few examples of hassle you can avoid in your aquatic research centres by opting for the right design and the right quality:


  • Research centres often house large and valuable aquatic specimens. A stand-alone rack system failure could result in significant financial losses in terms of inventory and data.
  • Ensuring the shelving can withstand the substantial weight of research-grade fish tanks, equipment, and water volumes is essential to prevent catastrophic incidents that can cause injuries to researchers and technicians.
  • The ratio between the height and the footprint of each stand-alone system must be carefully calculated or there will be a major risk of toppling, which can also lead to accidents and financial losses.
stand alone fish tank rack system
stand alone fish tank rack system


  • Aquatic research environments are characterized by continuous exposure to moisture and humidity. Therefore, shelving and rack materials must be exceptionally durable to withstand these conditions without succumbing to corrosion, decay or warping.
  • Beyond humidity, if seawater is used, the water projections coupled with evaporation will expose the materials to salt which is particularly aggressive and can shorten dramatically the lifespan of the stand-alone rack systems.
  • Long-term durability ensures that research projects are not hindered by the need for frequent shelving maintenance or replacement, making the investment last longer or being reused for future research programs.
Stand Alone fish tank rack system for research

Check the project we realised for the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology in Japan. The fish tank rack systems we designed, built and installed for them answer of these potential risks.

Choosing the right materials for the fish tank rack

Before getting into what makes a design strong and stable, selecting appropriate materials for heavy-duty shelving in aquatic research centres is vital. It’s essential to consider factors such as the tanks’ weight, size, and the specific research needs around the aquatic animals. Besides, materials should align with the rigorous demands of research environments. Common options include:

  • Stainless Steel: Known for its corrosion resistance and strength, stainless steel is a favoured choice in research settings. AISI 316 or AIS 304 stainless steel can withstand the challenges posed by moisture and provides lasting durability and an excellent resistance to weight.
  • Aluminium: Cheaper than stainless steel, it offers an excellent balance between durability in humid environment and cost-effectiveness. It’s an ideal choice for research shelving when budget considerations are in play and only smaller fish tanks will be used.
  • Plastic Composites: High-density polyethene (HDPE) and PVC-based composites are lightweight and moisture-resistant. They are practical options for aquatic research centres where mobility and adaptability are essential.
  • Fiberglass Reinforced Polymer (FRP): FRP shelving is lauded for its high strength-to-weight ratio and resistance to corrosion. It’s ideal when dealing with heavy loads in a moist environment.

Reinforcement techniques used in heavy-duty shelving for fish tanks

Design matters. Adding these considerations to your fish tank rack systems is the way of ensuring durability and stability. Here are all the points we take into account when designing heavy-duty shelving for fish tanks:

Stand Alone fish tank rack system with heavy duty shelving

Design Considerations

  • Load capacity: Calculate the precise weight-bearing required to accommodate research-grade fish tanks, including the weight of water, equipment, and aquatic animals.
  • Dimensional compatibility: Ensure that shelving dimensions align with the tanks’ sizes and can adequately support them without overhanging or instability.
  • Spacing and load distribution: Proper shelf spacing is critical to prevent sagging. Load distribution across shelves should be calculated to avoid undue stress on specific areas. Keeping enough space above and on the sides of the fish tanks will also helps with feeding and maintenance.
  • Ratio height/footprint: The width and length must be adequate to the height of the stand-alone rack system to avoid the risk of toppling.
  • Choice of materials: Corrosion resistant material ensure the durability of the fish tank rack systems but by avoiding any rust to form, it will prevent pollution should a drop of water containing rust fall into a fish tank. We typically use composite material with a food grade gel coating to prevent this.
  • Logistics: Ensuring the stand-alone rack systems will be able to travel in a standard container and though your facility until their final installation location must also be taken into account regarding maximum height, width and length. If necessary, stand-alone rack system can be designed with parts than can come apart and easily be put back together on site.
  • Future-proofing: Designing with having in mind that research protocols evolve and hence making possible the fish tanks with new ones of a different size.

Reinforcement Techniques

  • Corner braces: Strengthen corners with metal or plastic braces to enhance overall stability.
  • Cross-Bracing: Horizontal and diagonal cross-bracing significantly enhances stability and load-bearing capacity.
  • Solid back panels: they reinforce the structure and prevent sway.
  • Leg levellers/Adjustable feet: shelving units remain stable on uneven surfaces thanks to them.
  • Additional bracing: Implement extra braces or brackets beneath shelves to evenly distribute the weight
  • Attaching the fish rack systems to the walls, the ceiling and/or between themselves prevent the risk of toppling.

Maintenance & regular checks

By conducting routine maintenance, aquatic research centres can promptly identify and address issues, preventing potential research project disruptions. The longevity of research-centric shelving depends on these regular checks. Here’s how to ensure the ongoing strength and stability of your shelving system:

Ongoing Maintenance

  • Regularly inspect shelves for signs of wear, including warping, cracks, or corrosion
  • Clean and sanitize shelving to prevent the buildup of moisture or contaminants
  • Tighten fasteners, bolts, screws, and brackets to maintain structural integrity
  • Promptly replace any damaged or weakened components

Regular Checks

  • Periodically assess weight distribution on shelves to avoid overloading.
  • Ensure that shelving remains stable and level.
  • Monitor for any signs of sagging or warping.
Strong fish tank rack system with leak detection sensor

Strong and durable shelving of fish tank rack systems ensure both on-site safety and protection of your investment to lead better research. To avoid most common issues, proper design and choice of materials are essential. 

Contact us to discuss how we can help building durable custom-made heavy-duty shelving for fish tanks within your facility.

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