Small maritime targets, e.g., periscope tubes, jet skies, swimmers and small boats, are potential threats for naval ships under many conditions, but are difficult to detect with current radar systems due to their limited radar cross section and the presence of sea clutter. On the other hand, applications of lidar systems have shown that the reflections from small targets are significantly stronger than reflections from the sea surface. As a result, dedicated lidar systems are potential tools for the detection of small maritime targets. A geometric approach is used to compare the diffuse reflection properties of cylinders and spheres with flat surfaces, which is used to estimate the maximum detectable range of such objects for a given lidar system. Experimental results using lasers operating at 1.06 μm and 1.57 μm confirm this theory and are discussed. Small buoys near Scheveningen harbor could be detected under adverse weather over more than 9 km. Extrapolation of these results indicates that small targets can be detected out to ranges of approximately 20 km.