Definition of sampan in US English:



  • A small boat of a kind used in East Asia, typically with an oar or oars at the stern.

    • ‘They spot two sampans and chase them to a small fishing village.’
    • ‘Natives in three sampans paddled 10 hours without rest, towing the aircraft 25 miles downstream to the ancient city of Hue.’
    • ‘Graceful sampans, piled high with meticulous arrangements of fruit and vegetables, tables, urns and clay pots, float leisurely as they plied their merchandise.’
    • ‘The alternative is a ride on one of the local speedboats - usually sampans with two motors to be chartered for Rp 3 million for up to six people.’
    • ‘My father was a sailor and we lived in a sampan, a house boat.’
    • ‘He had to keep his eye on tankers, cargo vessels and little sampans while keeping in mind he had just four meters of water, about 13 feet, between ship bottom and riverbed.’
    • ‘Fishermen now use deep-sea trawlers and sophisticated fishing equipment, while sampans (small boats) ferry people between various points on the coastline along Victoria Harbour.’
    • ‘However, the thriving of the foreign shipping companies greatly harmed the business of sampans, and many locals suffered bankruptcy.’
    • ‘Simultaneously the Vietnamese pulled their sampans up onto the beach and began to unload something; he couldn't tell what, so he decided to illuminate the proceedings with a flare.’
    • ‘In the deep darkness of the Yuan River we were aware of other sampans near us filled with noisy passengers, and we prepared for trouble.’
    • ‘Both forces prompted the Communists to divert their sampans and other supply craft to smaller rivers and canals.’
    • ‘He said the operators of two steel fishing vessels recently reported losses of HK $50,000 a month while the operators of two sampans said they had lost around HK $20,000.’
    • ‘If only I could package the smells of a spice market in Istanbul, the sounds of gypsy music from Prague or the sights of sampans bobbing over the waters of Hong Kong harbour, I would send them home.’
    • ‘The hotel bar has incredible views over the harbour, past the flotilla of sampans, junks and cargo ships, to the jumble of skyscrapers which make up the Central district of Hong Kong island.’
    • ‘You'd think that a Royal Navy man would know that a sampan is not a sailing ship; it is a small boat usually propelled by two oars.’
    • ‘The sampans were first replaced by big wooden boats, and later by diesel ferries.’
    • ‘Cargo ships still to this day jostle with rice barges and fragile sampans (an Oriental boat propelled by a sail or oars), whilst porters sweat in the humidity loading the boats.’
    • ‘It's a poor fishing village where the people live in sampans and junks.’
    • ‘Transportation available is taxis, buses, car rental, express boats and long boats or sampans.’
    • ‘On day 12, they will go to My Tho in the Mekong Delta to visit a military snake farm before boarding the private sampan for a river cruise.’


Early 17th century: from Chinese san-ban, from san ‘three’ + ban ‘board’.