a person or thing that drifts.
a person who goes from place to place, job to job, etc., remaining in each for a short period, especially a hobo.
Also called drift boat. a boat used in fishing with a drift net.

1860–65; drift + -er1

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World English Dictionary
drifter (ˈdrɪftə)
1.  a person or thing that drifts
2.  a person who moves aimlessly from place to place, usually without a regular job
3.  a boat used for drift-net fishing
4.  nautical a large jib of thin material used in light breezes

Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 10th Edition
2009 © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
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Word Origin & History

1864, as a mining term; 1883, "boat fishing with drift-nets;" from drift. Meaning "vagrant" is from 1908.
Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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Example sentences
With everyone away, it would appear to the police to be the work of a drifter.
Drifter data can be compared to the calculated currents to determine how
  accurate the estimates of speed and direction are.
The drifter occasionally rises to the surface to send a signal that relays its
Students will calculate the magnitude of ocean currents, given data from
  drifter studies.
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