Emergency services and York Rescue Boat were called out to Woodsmill Quay on the banks of the river Ouse at about midnight.
Eye witness Michael Neal, who has lived in the Quay for about 20 years, said he was woken at about midnight by a neighbour saying that a man had got on to the crane.
Mr Neal said: “I looked out and I could hear a policewoman shouting up to him. The fire service and the river boat arrived shortly after and there were two boats in the river in case he went in.
“It was about an hour later, when it became clear he wasn’t coming down, that the aerial ladder arrived and the policewoman joined a firefighter operating it. They were up talking to the man for about 30 minutes before they talked him in to coming down.
“All credit to the policewoman, and all involved. It was a great team effort.”
A spokesman for North Yorkshire Police said: “Around 11.30pm last night (November 10) police received reports of a man on a crane over the river near Queen’s Staith in York. Police attended with the fire service and ambulance and the man was brought to safety.”