A sampan is a relatively flat-bottomed Chinese and Malay wooden boat. Some sampans include a small shelter on board and may be used as a permanent habitation on inland waters. Sampans are generally used for transportation in coastal areas or rivers and are often used as traditional fishing boats. It is unusual for a sampan to sail far from land, as they do not have the means to survive rough weather.
The word "sampan" comes from the original Cantonese term for the boats, sāam báan (三板), literally meaning "three planks". The name referred to the hull design, which consists of a flat bottom (made from one plank) joined to two sides (the other two planks). The design closely resembles Western hard chine boats like the scow or punt. Pierre-Yves Manguin has pointed out possible Austronesian origin of the word, attested in a Malay inscription from 684 CE.
Sampans may be propelled by poles, oars (particularly a single, long sculling oar called a yuloh) or may be fitted with outboard motors.
Sampans are still in use by rural residents of Southeast Asia, particularly in Malaysia, Indonesia, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Sri Lanka and Vietnam.
In the Malay community in Southeast Asia, they also use the term sampan for their boats. Large boats such as sampan panjang, kolek and perahu panjang are used and built by the Malays and Orang Laut living in their coastal villages.