Yes, this little tool carries a grim connotation, but it can really come in handy.
The next time you find yourself spending quality time in your engine room, I suggest you do one especially important thing before leaving—check the stainless-steel clamps on the hoses that serve your exhaust, raw-water-cooling and other mechanical systems on board your boat. Here’s the deal, though: A plain visual inspection will in many cases be insufficient. While a high-quality hose clamp can look like it’s in tip-top shape, the darn thing can be rusted through—or nearly rusted through—in spots that, due to the vagaries of geometry, are virtually impossible to see or inspect. The problem is especially common near low points and back sides of clamps where moisture in engine-heated air condenses and drips or drools downwards. How do you keep tabs on this sort of thing?
Consider, for a moment, the virtues of the humble dental-type mirror. You know, the lollipop-shaped gizmo with the long handle and the little round mirror or reflective device on the end? You should be able to buy a plastic one for a few dollars at your local drug store. Or, more useful and reliable in the long run, you could spend between $30 and $40 and get yourself a good-quality stainless-steel version in a protective case that’ll fit nicely into your onboard toolbox.
In either case, you’re going to use the device in much the same way your dentist does. Simply pass the mirror behind any suspect portion of a given hose clamp, angling it so that you can easily see what you could not see before. Then, if there’s any justice in the world, you should be able to easily identify rust and/or crumbling metal and replace the clamp well before a dangerous or pesky leak arises.
A dentist’s mirror, by the way, can serve other on board uses as well. Sometimes, when you’re working with electrical connections, motors, wiring or various auxiliaries, you’ll find that a bit of necessary information (a model number for a part that needs replacing, for example) is difficult or even impossible to see. Whataya do? Pull out your trusty little dentist’s mirror, shove it into that obscure spot, maybe bring a flashlight to bear, and hey, you’re home free! Certainly, a smartphone makes a fine stand-in for a dental mirror under some circumstances. But in others, the mirror will be considerably smaller and therefore way more maneuverable. —Capt. Bill Pike