Some sampans include a small shelter on board, and may be used as a permanent habitation on inland waters. The boats may be rowed by hand or may be fitted with outboard motors. Generally these motors utilize petrol as fuel. Sampans are generally used for fishing or transportation, in coastal areas or rivers. It is unusual for a sampan to sail far from land as they do not have the means to survive rough weather.
Sampans are still used by rural residents of Southeast Asia, particularly Malaysia, Indonesia and Vietnam. They are small fishing boats made of wood, about 10 feet long with no covering or shelter whatsoever, and have a relatively flat base. Sampans may be propelled by oars or may be fitted with outboard motors. These motors may be powered by petrol. However, not all outboard motors are petrol powered (such as the electric motors used in a Malaysian firefly sanctuary, as petrol fumes are toxic to fireflies.)