How Long Can Turtles Stay Out Of Water?

Ever wondered how long turtles can survive outside of the water? Look no further! In this article, we'll dive into the factors that affect a turtle's ability to stay out of water and give you some helpful tips to keep your pet turtle healthy and hydrated.
How Long Can A Turtles Stay Out Of Water

How Long Can Turtles Stay Out Of Water?

The answer varies depending on several factors, including what species of turtle you have, the age of the turtle, the overall health of the turtle, and weather and humidity conditions.

In general, the quick answer is, turtles can spend anywhere from 6-12 hours out of the water without risk of getting dehydrated.

If you have a pet turtle you should set up your turtle’s home up to include a basking area so your turtle to dry itself out and absorb UVB light.

Your turtle instinctively knows how much time to bask each day.

Why Turtles Need Water

There are several reasons why turtles need water.

Aid With Eating

Turtle eating lettuce

Water is essential for turtles to eat. Turtles don’t have teeth so are not able to chew their food as we do. Instead, they bite off chunks and rely on water to help swallow them.

Going To The Bathroom

Turtles prefer to be in water to help them go to the bathroom. Just like with us, what goes in must come out.

Turtles naturally defecate in water in the wild, common belief is that it is to hide their scents from predators, although there’s no scientific research to prove this as fact.

Staying Hydrated

Turtles need water to stay hydrated. Water makes up a significant portion of a turtle’s body weight, and they need to maintain this level of hydration for their bodies and organs to function properly.


Being cold-blooded, turtles rely on the environment around them to regulate their body temperature. Water helps to keep turtles cool during hot weather, and also helps to keep them warm during cold weather.


Swimming is an essential activity for aquatic turtles. They need a large volume of water to be able to move around freely.

The depth of water in your turtle’s tank should be double the length of your turtle’s shell carapace.

Do Turtles Need To Be In Water All The Time?

Turtle basking on a log

No, turtles don’t need to be in water all the time.

Wild turtles will climb up onto logs and bask under the sunlight.

Pet turtles need a basking area where they can bask under a heat lamp to warm themselves up, dry off their shell, and absorb UVB light which helps them metabolize calcium in their diet, keeping their bones and shells healthy.

A turtle that doesn’t get to bask long enough to dry its shell off regularly will be at risk of developing colds, respiratory illnesses, and shell rot.

Factors That Affect How Long Turtles Can Stay Out Of Water

When it comes to how long turtles can stay out of water, there are several factors that can affect this. 

Age Of The Turtle

The age of the turtle plays a big role in how long it can stay out of water.

Baby turtles cannot stay out of water for as long as adult turtles. This is because they haven’t fully developed yet so they’re more susceptible to dehydration and require more moisture to survive.

Species Of Turtle

Different species have different needs when it comes to water.

Some species, like the box turtle, are considered non-aquatic and need to live in a different habitat than an aquatic turtle.

It’s important to research the specific needs of your type of pet turtle to ensure that you are providing it with the proper amount of water.

Weather Conditions

If the temperature is too hot, the turtle will lose more moisture and become dehydrated more quickly. High humidity levels can help to keep the turtle hydrated for longer periods of time.

If you plan on taking your pet turtle outside to bask, it’s important to monitor the weather conditions.

What Happens To A Turtle If It Stays Out Of Water Too Long?

If a turtle stays out of water for too long, it can experience various negative effects on its health.

The most common issue is dehydration, which can lead to serious health problems and even death.

Turtles need water to regulate their body temperature, and without it, they can quickly become overheated and dehydrated.

Can Turtles Sleep Outside The Water?

Can turtles sleep outside the water

All turtles are able to sleep outside the water, even if they choose not to.

Some turtles may prefer to sleep on land, especially if they are a terrestrial species. For example, box turtles are known to sleep in burrows or under leaf litter.

If you have a non-aquatic turtle, you should provide them with a suitable sleeping area. This can include a hide box or a pile of leaves where they can burrow and feel safe.

Why Do Turtles Come Out Of Water?

There could be a few reasons why your turtle has come out of its tank water.


Basking is a natural behavior for turtles. They bask in sunlight in the wild to dry themselves off, warm up, and in doing so absorb UVB light which helps them metabolize calcium in their diet which keeps their shell and bones healthy.


Although aquatic turtles live in water, they don’t breathe the same way fish do. They breathe oxygen from the air as we do.

Having said that, wild (and occasionally pet) turtles enter brumation (turtle equivalent of hibernation) during the cold winter months, they dive down to the bottom of the lake or pond that they live in where it is warmer and the temperatures are more stable.

Although a turtle cannot breathe underwater, they don’t have to during brumation. They ‘breathe’ by performing cloacal respiration.

The hole they pass poop out of has a lot of blood vessels that absorb oxygen from the water around them. Yes, a turtle can breathe through its butthole!

Poor Water Quality

Turtles are really messy, and their tank can soon look and smell like a swamp if you don’t keep their tank clean and the nitrogen cycle in check.

A good quality water filter is a must-have item for an aquatic turtle tank.

Adding some plants will also help with removing harmful toxins from the water.

Regular water changes are another way to deal with dirty tank water. If you have a gravel vacuum like the Python No Spill and Fill System, water changes are a breeze.

Just be sure to add some water dechlorinator into your turtle tank when you top it back up again.

Water Temperature

If your tank water isn’t warm enough your turtle will come out to bask and warm up more frequently. Water that isn’t warm enough also puts your turtle at risk of developing colds and other respiratory problems.

Check that your tank heater is in full working order regularly.

The age and species of your turtle will determine what the ideal water temperature of your turtle tank should be.

Use the turtle water temperature chart below as a general guide only, as each different species of turtle require different temperatures.

Life StageAgeTemperature
Hatchling0-1 Year75°F – 80°F
Juvenile1-4 Years72°F +
Adult4 Years +68°F +

Younger turtles require warmer water than adult turtles due to them needing a higher protein diet in order to help them grow properly.

The warmer water helps their digestive system process this extra protein.

Should I Let My Turtle Out Of Its Tank?

You don’t have to, but you could with some precautions. Turtles need exercise and exposure to natural sunlight is good for them, but they also need to be safe from predators and other dangers.

Make sure the area is enclosed and secure. Turtles are skilled escape artists and can easily slip through small openings. A closed room or a fenced outdoor area is ideal.

Keep the temperature in mind. Turtles are cold-blooded and need warmth to stay healthy. If it’s too cold outside, your turtle may become lethargic and inactive. If it’s too hot, your turtle may become overheated and dehydrated.

Supervise your turtle at all times. Turtles can get into trouble quickly, especially if they encounter other animals or hazardous objects. Keep a close eye on your pet and be ready to intervene if necessary.

How Long Can Red-Eared Sliders Stay Out Of Water?

Red eared slider

Red-eared sliders are semi-aquatic so can be out of water for around 8 hours per day without any risk to their health.

It all comes down to the turtles’ age, overall health, and weather conditions.

How Long Can Painted Turtles Stay Out Of Water?

Painted turtles are aquatic turtles that spend most of their time in water.

Again, depending on the age of your turtle and overall health, a painted turtle can spend 6-8 hours with any health concerns.

How Long Can Musk Turtles Stay Out Of Water?

Musk turtle

Musk turtles are another species that spend most of their time in water.

As with other species of turtle, they’ll be OK to be out of water for between 6-8 hours per day without any risk to their health.

How Long Can Box Turtles Stay Out Of Water?

Eastern Box Turtle

Unlike the aquatic turtles listed above, box turtles spend the majority of their time on land.

They do require water for drinking and bathing, but not for swimming, although they can swim if they need to….but they’re no Michael Phelps!

The exception to the rule is The Coahuilan Box Turtle, which is found in Mexico and spends the majority of its time in the water.

Closing Thoughts…

Now that you know how long turtles can stay out of water, you are better equipped to care for your pet turtle.

In ideal conditions, most turtles can spend anywhere from 6-12 hours out of the water without risk of getting dehydrated.

If the temperature is too hot or the humidity is too low, turtles will quickly become dehydrated. If the temperature is too cold your turtle may go into brumation, or develop colds and respiratory illnesses.

If you have a sick turtle, you can find a specialist turtle vet near you on the  Association of Reptile and Amphibian Veterinarians’ website.

Check out the turtle section for more in-depth reviews and care guides.



Hey, fellow fish enthusiast 👋! I'm Paul and I've been an aquarium addict since I won my first goldfish at the fair many years ago. Let me share with you the knowledge that I've gained along the way (and avoid the mistakes I've made!), so you too can create an underwater paradise for your aquatic friends.