any of various small boats of the Far East, as one propelled by a single scull over the stern and provided with a roofing of mats.

1610–20; < Chinese sānbǎn three-plank (boat), or < cognate dial. forms Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2014.
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World English Dictionary
sampan (ˈsæmpæn)
any small skiff, widely used in the Orient, that is propelled by oars or a scull
[C17: from Chinese san pan, from san three + pan board]

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

light Chinese boat, 1620, from Chinese san pan, lit. "three boards," from san "three" + pan "plank."
Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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Encyclopedia Britannica


most common type of small boat in Chinese waters, constructed in a variety of designs. Some have sharp bows, and nearly all have large sterns, with the after portion of the gunwale and deck nearly always raised. Sampans are usually rigged for sailing, sometimes with two masts; otherwise they are rowed with large sweep-type oars. They are usually open or partly decked, with a shelter or cabin aft. In Japan, Hawaii, and Taiwan, a powered boat has been developed out of the traditional Japanese sampan, with a flat-bottomed midsection.

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Encyclopedia Britannica, 2008. Encyclopedia Britannica Online.
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Example sentences
The sampan captain lurched out on deck waving a white flag.
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