Here we examine the reliability of surface comparisons in searches for active sites in proteins. Detection of a patch of surface on one protein which is similar to an active site in another, may suggest similarities in enzymatic mechanisms, in enzyme functions and implicate a potential target for ligand/inhibitor design. Specifically, we compare the efficacy of molecular surface comparisons with comparisons of surface atoms and of C(α) backbone atoms, We further investigate comparisons of specific atoms, belonging to a predefined pattern of catalytic residues versus comparisons of molecular surfaces and, separately, of surface atoms. This aspect is particularly relevant, as catalytic residues may be (partially) buried. We also explore active site comparisons versus comparisons in which the entire molecular surfaces are scanned. While here we focus on the geometrical aspect of the problem, we also investigate the effect of adding residue labels in these comparisons. Our extensive studies cover the serine proteases, containing the highly conserved triad motif, and the chorismate mutases. Since such active site comparisons entail comparisons between unconnected points in 3D space, an order-independent comparison technique is necessary. The geometric hashing algorithm is ideally suited to handling such a task. It can perform both global shape matching for the whole surfaces of large protein molecules and searching for local shape similarities for small surface motifs. Our results show that molecular surface comparisons work best when the similarity is high. As the similarity deteriorates, the number of potential solutions increases rapidly, making their ranking difficult, particularly when scanning entire molecular surfaces. Utilizing atomic coordinates directly appears more adequate under such circumstances.