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Two people were rescued from a disabled motor boat that was adrift near the brink of Niagara Falls, a hazardous nighttime rescue that was hindered by high winds but helped when nearby dams lowered the river level, authorities said Monday.

Police using a boat reached the pair after the winds prevented a helicopter from getting to them.

The 2 1/2-hour rescue effort began late Sunday night, when officials were notified by one of the boaters that their 18-foot boat hit a reef and was adrift.

"At 9:50 p.m. a call of vessel in distress came in," a New York State Police dispatcher told NBC News. "The boat was half a mile from going down the falls."

The vessel was near Goat Island, which lies between the American and Canadian falls, and the Coast Guard told the boaters to anchor.

Related: Meet the Man Responsible for How Much Water Comes from Niagara Falls

The boat kept drifting until officials at the nearby hydropower plants lowered the level of the Niagara River. That grounded the boat about a half-mile from the top of the falls.

When the effort to rescue the boaters with a police helicopter failed because of high winds, a New York State Park Police rescue boat was able to reach the grounded vessel and bring the Buffalo man and woman to shore. The disabled boat was later towed to shore around 1:30 a.m. Monday, officials said.

Lt. Patrick Moriarty of the park police said the agency's boat designed for river rescues is docked near Goat Island, down river from where the boaters got stranded. Still, the boaters, a 45-year-old man and a 42-year-old woman, put their lives at risk for even cruising into the river's exclusion zone, he said. The exclusion zone is a federally designated section that extends hundreds of yards upriver from the brink.

The American portion of Niagara Falls on Oct. 8, 2006 in a view from aboard the Maid of the Mist on the Niagara River.DON EMMERT / AFP/Getty Images

"We're like the last line of defense before someone would go over the falls," Moriarty said.

Buoys placed across the river warn boaters that they're approaching the no-go zone. Moriarty said the man operating the open-bow pleasure craft is an inexperienced boater who apparently didn't know what the markers meant.

"It's the responsibility of the operator to be know the waters he's operating in, be able to read a chart, know what the buoys mean," he said.

Moriarty said his agency and local emergency crews perform similar rescues "several times every year."

Ben Rappaport and The Associated Press contributed.